‘I don’t see an end to it’: Years of low pay leading to shortage of school bus drivers in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost every county in Florida is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers.

The pandemic has played a role in making the situation worse, but Channel 9 investigative reporter Christopher Heath has discovered it’s a problem that’s been years in the making.

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READ: Superintendent gets bus driver’s license to help during driver shortage

The 2021 school year has been filled with stories of packed buses, early pickups, late drop-offs, or students just left waiting, as school districts desperately try to recruit more drivers.

Bus driver Marilyn Fay has been on the job for nearly 30 years. She says the problem is with the pay.

“It’s discouraging,” Fay said. “My youngest just graduated from high school, and he’s in college, and I thought for sure once all three of mine graduated i could make it on my own, and I still can’t.”

While pay for school bus drivers varies from county to county, on average, only five states pay less than Florida.

READ: Orange County school buses overcrowded due to driver shortage, leaving students to sit on the floor

According to state budget records Florida paid $156 per student for transportation in 2011.

In 2020, that figure was the same, even as the cost for everything from fuel to buses has increased, all while the coronavirus pandemic forced many drivers out of the profession.

“It’s tough,” Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay said. “These people have awfully big hearts to be able to do that...get up early and work late in the day to transport kids.”

The Lake County School District has 30 school bus driver vacancies it needs to fill.

Kornegay says they’re asking the state for more money to increase salaries.

READ: Florida yet to submit plan for school funds through American Rescue Plan, holding up $2.3B

Bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license, which puts schools at competition with private businesses that can and typically do pay more for drivers with a CDL.

It puts drivers in the driver’s seat with schools unable to match pay.

“It’s a huge impact on our families when we’re unable to adhere to the bus schedule,” Fay said. “It’s sad to say, but I don’t see an end to it.”

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