Help Wanted: School bus drivers

Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 2:03 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The school bus driver shortage continues to be a problem for districts across the region. According to Student Transportation of America, Vermont currently has 35 bus driver vacancies. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, Kayla Martin went for a ride to learn how the shortage is impacting students.

The students at Union Elementary School in Montpelier filed onto the bus one by one on a recent school day. It’s a familiar routine for Tom Stephenson, a driver with Student Transportation of America, who started driving buses back in 1996 for the flexible schedule.

“Part-time aspect of it, because back when I first started, I enjoyed sailing a lot, so I spent my summers away. It was kind of nice, it was seasonal work,” Stephenson said. He says he’s stuck with it because he loves the job. “I got comfortable driving kids around. It was like, Oh, okay, I can keep doing this. I don’t sail anymore and I still do it.”

Stacy Emerson, the operations manager of Student Transportation of Vermont, says she believes concerns over working with kids may be what’s holding some people back from applying.”I don’t know if it was the fear of the bus or of the students, but I think once you’re involved you realize that you become a part of your community,” she said.

And for those potential drivers who are nervous, Stephenson has some advice: “I think working with young people kind of helps keep you young,” he said.

Emerson says they’ve always had a hard time finding drivers but the pandemic made it worse. Pre-COVID, what we would do is reach out to someone who lived in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, and we would bring them here to drive our students,” she said. But Emerson says they need drivers from local communities. She’s calling on coaches, teachers, parents, and grandparents to help out in any way possible, including transportation to sporting events. Without the help, Emerson says it impacts students. “A lot of hardships for families, athletics, extracurricular activities,” she said.

“I think a lot of people think they need to have a CDL when they walk in the door, but that’s not the case,” Emerson said. He says they’ll train new hires and that no previous experience or qualifications are needed.

After 25-plus years on the road, Stephenson says one of his favorite parts of the job is helping families get their day started and finished safely.

The pay is a problem for some, that’s why Emerson says they’ve recently raised wages. Starting pay ranges from $19 to $26 an hour depending on location. drivers also get 40 hours of paid time off, life insurance, and a 401K. Plus, new drivers will get a $1,500 sign-on bonus. Another benefit is that they can practically make their own schedule. “It’s all in how much you want to work,” Emerson said.

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