UniteGPS – Not only are U.S. school districts having difficulties in retaining bus drivers but also teachers. While educators have sometimes volunteered to go behind the wheel because of the hiring shortage, officials at Fayette County Public Schools in Georgia are preparing drivers to serve as substitute teachers in hopes of preventing classrooms from going further unattended.
Bus drivers at Fayette County Public Schools
Fayette County Public Schools published a press release and video on Feb. 10 announcing this rather unconventional strategy in handling the hiring shortage. So far, over 30 enthusiastic bus drivers have stepped up to the plate in solidarity with teachers.
Showcased in an informational video from the district explaining this initiative, bus drivers are hoping to give back to the community.
“It’s a hard time for all of us with driving and I know it’s a hard time for teachers,” said Kathy Blackstone, a district bus driver. “If we can fill in a little spot, then that’s why I want to do this.”
Although the Fayette County Public Schools hired over 120 subs since the beginning of the school, that hasn’t been enough to make ends meet, meaning classrooms are going increasingly teacherless. This new strategy aims to prevent this from continuing any further, according to the district’s Human Resources Director, Erin Roberson.
“We are so grateful to our bus drivers who are willing to help us by filling in as a substitute teacher in between their bus routes, we really feel like this is a win-win for them and the school system,” said Roberson.
In relation to recent conversations with superintendents and transportation directors across the United States, UniteGPS believes this is a smart way to attract new bus drivers and improve retainment altogether. More hours means more financial stability for bus drivers, which should entail eligibility for new benefits or overtime.
Combining roles to solve hiring shortage
Previously UniteGPS has reported on the benefits of combining roles in school districts to help bus operations run more smoothly. Take Brent Hoesing, the superintendent at Missouri Valley Community Schools in Iowa, for example. Driving a school bus on a biweekly basis, he encourages custodians, maintenance, and paraeducators to acquire their CDL to work more hours and receive benefit eligibility.
“As long as continue combining (roles) to make full-time positions, that will help us attract people,” said Hoesing to UniteGPS. Other superintendents like Robert “Bob” Stekel at Hillsboro School District in Wisconsin also see combined roles as an opportunity to improve retention in other areas, not just school buses.
“In our custodial maintenance department, I feel they should all have a bus driver’s license right now,” Stekel told UniteGPS. “None of them currently have a bus driver’s license (and) there’s been a lot of turnover in that area.”
The strategy of combining roles in response to the ongoing hiring shortage appeals to Stekel, who spoke about challenges in finding qualified bus drivers in his community of around 650 students, 400 of whom live in rural areas.
Even with the district offering financial incentives and support for CDL training requirements, the superintendent says that staff and faculty still have not “taken the bait.” According to Stekel, the last bus driver to earn their license in Hillsboro was over two years ago.