The wheels on the bus go round only with drivers

The Bainbridge Island School District has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers all year, but it’s getting worse, causing route cancellations almost every week.

Other school districts in Kitsap County also have had issues, but not to the extent of BISD, especially now.

Since March 1, the district has sent more than 14 text messages to parents about bus delays or cancellations due to driver shortages. In the April 21 community newsletter, the district said it was experiencing a driver shortage and apologized for the inconvenience for families and students. “The BISD Transportation Team has taken on additional shifts and is working to address the short- and long-term challenges,” the newsletter says.

BISD Transportation supervisor Mary Howes said the district needs 19 drivers to operate all of the routes, and it is seeking full-route drivers, along with substitutes, specifically with a Class B license. However, BISD offers paid training and is looking to interview anyone interested in becoming a driver.

Other districts aren’t experiencing cancellations like BISD.

Jenn Markaryan, community relations with the North Kitsap School District, said: “We are currently fully staffed for bus drivers, and we are always in need of substitute drivers. Having a pool of drivers provides us with the flexibility we need to accommodate illness, field trips, athletic transportation and more. Currently, our substitute pool is very small.”

Central Kitsap School District community relations executive director David Beil said, “The district is not experiencing a shortage in their transportation department.” They have 85 drivers to cover all routes.

Since August 2022, South Kitsap School District has hired 24 drivers to replace staff who resigned or retired and currently has 78 permanent drivers compared to 74 last year. “Thankfully, there have not been any route cancellations in recent months,” district public information officer Amy Miller said.

Some factors beyond BISD’s control are contributing to the driver shortage. The most-significant objections heard from prospective applicants are: on-the-job training takes too long as it can take up to five months to complete; some fear driving the big vehicles; and others worry about student management while picking up and dropping off kids each day.

For the adventurous few who want to get behind the wheel of a big yellow bus, the job offers a flexible schedule, and pay of $27.57-$34.90 an hour. Other benefits include medical, dental and vision insurance, along with retirement plans.

In a hiring video, drivers shared different things they like about their job. Driver Johannes Pohl said, “Every day is different, and that’s what makes it great.”

Driver Teresa Shapiro said the training erased the fear of driving a long bus, and driver Tom Stevens said, “It’s a great way to give back to the community.”

Howes invites drivers to join the team because it’s a “great community of colleagues. It’s a good way to be involved with kids, schools and the community.” And the schedule allows them to have time for other pursuits while “making a difference in students’ lives.”

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