Transportation department vacancies continue to plague Guilford County

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Transportation department vacancies continue to plague Guilford County

Students crowd the hallways while waiting for their buses. Vacancies in the transportation department have left many students with this fate.

Students crowd the hallways while waiting for their buses. Vacancies in the transportation department have left many students with this fate.

Students crowd the hallways while waiting for their buses. Vacancies in the transportation department have left many students with this fate.

Students crowd the hallways while waiting for their buses. Vacancies in the transportation department have left many students with this fate.

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When the county promises a reliable source of transportation to and from school, people expect them to deliver. Guilford County has suffered major driver shortages for years now, and now is down anywhere from 40 to 50 drivers.

This shortage has included buses in all of Guilford County; it’s not just Northwest. Some buses have constantly changing substitute drivers, and, at times, don’t have a driver at all.

“Every school in this zone (is affected), so that’s a lot of schools,” Northwest Zone Routing Specialist Johanna Stone said.

Needless to say, the shortage has impacted students for the worse. Some have lost faith in the bus system after bad experiences.

“(At a certain point), we just stopped waiting for the bus (to come pick us up after school) and we would call our dad to pick us up when he could,” junior Sierra Malley said.

On Malley’s bus, issues first began a few years ago after a reliable bus driver moved to another bus. After getting a new bus driver, they quit; starting the constant cycle of new drivers. However, it wasn’t the constant influx of new bus drivers that made students angry, it was the fact that over half the time, in the afternoons, the bus would not be there to pick them up.

“I know one bus driver had two jobs, so that was the main reason he couldn’t pick us up,” Malley said. “So (it would be better to) hire people that focus on the bus,” Malley said.

However, bus drivers do not make high wages and with two months off with no pay in the summer, another job is needed.

“They talk about raising teachers’ pay a lot, but they don’t talk about raising what they call ‘classified employees,’ which are the bus divers, the cafeteria workers, the custodians,” Athletic director John Hughes said. “But they’re actually the ones who get paid the least.”

Hughes, who has a degree from Duke University, serves a substitute bus driver in the morning for one of two routes. He is a staff member who has a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for a school bus. Hughes helps with the morning shortage, but the route he drives in the morning will most likely not have a ride home. This is because his athletic duties occupy his time after school.

“Since they’re so short on drivers, they are asking anybody with a CDL license,” Hughes said.

A CDL license requires passing four written tests, passing three days of on-the-road bus driving, a clean background check and a clean driving record.

“It’s intimidating (to get a CDL) for a lot of people because of the extensive training,” Hughes said.

The bus district cannot find qualified drivers like Hughes for the full time job.

“They’re trying to help prepare (potential bus drivers) better so they can pass the class,”  Stone said. “But, as I’ve seen on the news, out of 20 people, five will pass the class.”

Stone and the district bus office are doing their absolute best to solve this problem. However, even those who want to be bus drivers and pass the test may not pass the background checks.

“It’s something that you want to help, but you know you can’t,” Stone said regarding the shortage. “Our hands are tied.  It affects everybody the same.”

As drivers become more scarce, more parents begin to call in to complain about the ongoing shortages. Often students are late to school or make it home rather late.

“The latest I have been is a half hour,” Malley said. “I was very angry because it’s their job to pick us up.”

There are possible solutions, but they are not immediate, and those that are cause more issues.

“We have to double up routes because that’s the only solution we have,” Stone said.

The doubling up on routes is what makes drivers have to come back form their own route to pick up another route. This is when students, like Malley, have to wait after school.

In July 2018, the General Assembly raised the minimum wage for state employees to $15 per hour; however, this raise did not include public school workers. Approximately 45,000 public school employees including school bus drivers, custodians and teaching assistants are paid as little as $12 per hour.

There has also been talk of raising the minimum wage for all North Carolinians to $15 per hour, but the current Democratic proposal sets a deadline of 2024.

Therefore, until a permanent solution is made, staff members like Hughes will continue to assist the shortages, and there will still be frustrated students, like Malley. Overall, Stone and those at the bus district are doing everything in their power to solve this issue.

“We do not want people to think that we do not care,” Stone said.

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