Escambia Co. schools struggle finding bus drivers for upcoming school year

Northwest Florida

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — The Escambia County School District (ESCD) is making some adjustments for the upcoming school year due to a significant bus driver shortage. 

The school district has come up with a new staggered bus driving schedule that would have some students seeing up to 35-minute pick-up schedule differences.

There is currently more than 100 bus driving positions that need to be filled, and WKRG News 5 spoke with the ECSD Transportation Director, Darlene Hart, who says it’s been an ongoing problem for about four years.

“So it’s not that the district isn’t giving raises. It’s that they are just not able to compete with a private sector,” Hart said.

Escambia County currently only has 182 bus drivers, which is a number that isn’t close to fulfilling the needs of the increasing amount of students they will have this year. The shortage has caused the district to ask more and more of the bus drivers that are left.

Hart says, “We would have one bus go pick up the route they were assigned and take those kids to school, and then they would go right back out and pick up another bus of children. They went above and beyond.”

Compared to other commercial driver job wages, the district doesn’t have the funds to compete. Hart tells WKRG News 5 there’s about a $4 difference an hour wage that has been a big reason many have left, adding many have retired on top of it.

Hart is a former bus driver herself, knowing how essential the job really is and the countless hours her employees put in to get their students home safely.

“Those kids and those parents are relying on us to be there at certain times, and if we don’t have a body that can physically get behind the wheel of a bus and take that bus out there, then those kids are left,” Hart said.

It’s been a hard situation for Hart because she is very aware of how much extra work their bus drivers have put in as they have had to add new routes and them putting in more hours.

Hart says the school district is grateful for the ones who have stayed with them through the shortage.

“They come to work every day and love on our students, and I’m very thankful they have stuck it out and they are very close to my heart,” Hart said.

Even with these staggered schedules, they have 46 vacant bus routes.

School principals have sent a school messenger call out to families to provide information about bus routes and school day starting and ending times. 

For more information on job openings, click here.

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