New Bus Drivers Coming Through Training Pipeline, More Needed

Relief is on the way for Loudoun’s school bus driver shortage as dozens of new hires are set to complete their training, but there is still a need for drivers to cover the 519 daily routes in the county.

The driver shortage was a challenge even before the arrival of COVID-19, but, during the pandemic the district lost a significant number of drivers despite keeping them on payroll.

“Nationally everyone is recognizing that there is a bus driver shortage, a truck driver shortage, a driver of any kind shortage across the country,” Chief Operations Officer Kevin Lewis told the School Board during its Oct. 12 meeting. “I’m pleased by the School Board for working to make a more attractive overall compensation package from benefits to salaries and those types of things.”

Lewis said that the recruiting process is a never-ending one. For example, during the 2017-2018 school year, there were 82 new hires, while the department lost 44 drivers. The next year was similar, with 81 new hires and 64 drivers who left for retirement or other jobs. 

Lewis estimates that the district is short 58 drivers and 28 attendants.

New recruitment tactics began over the summer are working, Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Boland said.

The district has held hiring events, increased driver pay to $22.16 an hour, increased the sign-on bonus to $2,500 and the referral bonus to $1,000, and has increased the number of guaranteed daily work hours from five to six.

Since implementing those measures, the number of trainees has doubled, Boland said. There are 49 people beginning training and 19 people who are about to begin their behind-the-wheel training.

But getting new hires signed on is only half the battle. Bus drivers go through a training program and must obtain a permit from the DMV. Then, they must complete a two-week training process and pass the certified drivers license test. Only 67% of candidates pass the training. 

Then, they undergo 25 hours of behind-the-wheel training, and 10 hours of driving actual routes with students, accompanied with another driver for supervision.

The entire process takes about three months, Boland said. The length of the process and delays at the DMV for appointments to get permits means that having a pool of qualified candidates is far from an immediate fix.

Lewis stressed that Loudoun is competing with other localities for drivers. A recent study from HopSkipDrive found that 81% of school divisions nationwide are fighting driver shortages.

The nature of the job, which requires employees to work for a few hours in the morning, take a break, and return for a few hours in the afternoon, makes it an unconventional work schedule.

The operations department is looking to possible scheduling changes to reduce the number of drivers needed, and to maximize the hours available to drivers. One suggestion is staggering bell times for elementary schools, so drivers can take more routes and get more hours on the clock.

Beth Barts (Leesburg) pointed out that changing school start times might have an adverse impact on families. 

“We have that in our district and it is frustrating for some parents. Parents do plan their work schedule around- especially at the elementary level. Those kids can’t be home alone,” Barts said.

Loudoun Now reported in September that some students in the district waited for up to an hour for their ride to school at one point. Parents have reported that bus routes have been canceled, or that they have been asked to pick up and drop off their students so that buses can consolidate routes. On days when there is an unusually high amount of driver absences, staff members and supervisors have to take routes.  

5 thoughts on “New Bus Drivers Coming Through Training Pipeline, More Needed

  • 2021-10-19 at 11:59 am

    This is encouraging news. Good luck to the school bus driver graduates. I hope they secure all the necessary state approvals. But this is an ongoing problem throughout America. My brother-in-law recently expressed an interest in becoming a school bus driver. It’s guaranteed employment if you can clear all the hurdles. Meanwhile, I hope excessive waiting for LCPS buses can be avoided at all costs. I do know the late Leslee King encouraged bike riding to school when appropriate. That’s another possible option for students.

  • 2021-10-19 at 1:20 pm

    A word of caution to the new driver’s on the western routes…

    No matter how lost or confused you get. No matter how badly you want to turn around and go back to the correct route.

    DON’T TRY TO TURN AROUND on a narrow road… especially if it’s gravel… it’s a trap. You will get stuck. Or much worse.

    Seen it happen too many times.

    Please be safe out there.

  • 2021-10-19 at 1:42 pm

    Just a thought, but have you targeted Uber drivers in your marketing? They seem like the perfect people to do this kind of limited-hour bus driving and there are literally thousands of them in our area.

  • 2021-10-19 at 5:52 pm

    An easy fix would be to increase the salaries even more to attract more drivers.

  • 2021-10-20 at 8:01 am

    Staggering start times for co-located schools offers much more than just efficiency. The breakfast programs in LCPS would also blossom so children would be assured of some food prior to last minute drop offs by parents or via buses. So now we come to the real issue LCPS does not want to discuss. Who is in the building to manage the children arriving early? We don’t realize how many of the staff arrive at the very last minute to start their day or are nearly at their car when the end of day bell rings. Does LCPS even track or report all staff going in and out of the school buildings during the day. Parents are inconvenienced by much of what schools do and should not be used as an excuse not to be more efficient or provide more care than the minimum required school day! Compare the homework policy and the time children spend at night and ask yourself if ALL the material was really covered during class or is your child trying to learn something at home. If homework is truly and exclusively intended as reinforcement then why do straight A students lose points if their homework is turned in late? The more parents learn about LCPS the more the treatment of their children will be fairer and the more efficiently the system will run. 🙂

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