LEXINGTON, SC (WIS) - WIS is learning more about what officials say is a statewide problem, a school bus driver shortage, leading to a number of problems.
One parent believes the driver shortage in Saluda County, caused students to stand in a seemingly overcrowded bus in Saluda County. We showed you the video of that incident Monday.
In addition to Saluda County, we spoke with other school districts on Tuesday. Lexington 1, Lexington 2, Richland 1, Richland 2, Newberry County are all fighting shortages and trying to make the money stretch to serve their children.
In Richland 2, Will Anderson, the Executive Director of Operations said the shortage is causing issues. Drivers are stretched to running triple, even at times quadruple routes.
“If that driver calls in sick in the middle school route, we’re now scrambling to get somebody here on time so now that bus is running 30 minutes late, an hour late. Which not only impacts the middle school, it impacts the elementary school, it impacts the high school after it. So that high school kid who maybe had a 45-minute block, class the first class has missed the entire first class of school and in some cases, this is happening multiple times a week,” Anderson said.
In Lexington 1, Transportation Director Bill Kurts said they are running double routes and afternoon drop-offs are affected.
“In the afternoons, we may have to have the bus deliver a group of children closest to the school and then come back and pick up the rest so we don’t have to overload the bus,” Kurts said.
Officials say this is cyclical and has affected the state for years.
Some factors working against the districts include low bus driver pay, a difficult working environment, a lack of full-time hours and outside competition.
“So we’ll pay for them to get a CDL, pay for the training, they’ll work for us for a few months and a trucking company can come hire them for double, or triple the pay,” Anderson said.
Since 2016, funds allocated to districts for bus driver pay has increased, but when the state department of education requested additional funds from legislators to increase base pay to $10.96, they received less than half of requested money.
“Education is significantly underfunded in the state specifically Richland 2 and other districts and until we can be adequately funded, this problem quite honestly is not going to go away,” Anderson said.
Base pay for bus drivers without supplements from districts is $7.70 without experience. The South Carolina Department of Education tops out pay with 22+ years of experience at $11.32.
Lexington 1 and Richland 2 have new drivers in the employment process, but it takes 3-6 weeks before drivers can get on the road. This new group will help, but will not eliminate their shortage.
Lexington has 12 in their employment process, but are 40 drivers short. Richland 2, is 15 short. They have 5 in the employment process.
Both Lexington 1 and Richland 2 are offering training compensation and other districts do so as well. Richland 2 officials say they have some of the highest pay in the state. Lexington 1 they have high competitive pay for the Columbia area. Despite the elevated pay, both still face shortages.
Richland 1 officials say they are currently in need of 25 bus drivers but are advertising the need through recruitment initiatives.
Districts receive school bus driver funding based on a formula that takes into consideration: route time, the number of school days that route will be driven, and the amount of buses.