Bus driver shortage puts special needs parents in quandary

Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:33 PM EST
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Aiken County Public School District is offering incentives to entice new hires.

We talked to a parent who describes struggling with inconsistent bus schedules because the district doesn’t have enough drivers.

For Alysia Ritch’s daughter with Autism, riding the bus home from school has always been a treat. Since she started school, she has always loved the bus.

“That’s one of her favorite things to do with school,” she said.

But this year, she hasn’t been able to ride due to how long her daughter would be on the bus in the morning and afternoon.

“They get out of school at 3 p.m., officially at the middle school, but the bus wouldn’t pick up until after 4 p.m., and her bus would have been arriving back to our house around 6 p.m., and 4:30 to 6 p.m. is just entirely too long,” she said.

These long bus rides are due to a shortage of drivers.

Hope Mullins is a classified staffing and recruitment specialist. She said, “A lot of our drivers are having to do two loads or two routes, so sometimes students may arrive a little bit earlier to a school than what they need, or they may arrive home a little bit later than their parents would hope for.”

The district says recruiting drivers is always difficult, but it’s especially hard to find special education drivers.

“Our special education bus drivers, they have extra responsibilities for students with disabilities,” she said.

Ritch says those extra responsibilities can range from dealing with outbursts and making sure kids are harnessed in properly.

“It does take a special person to be able to manage that. I understand that can be difficult to find,” she said.

To recruit more special needs bus drivers, the board is offering an extra $1,000 sign-on bonus and others.

Ashley Watson is also a certified staffing and recruitment coordinator. She said, “We did just pass a dollar increase for our bus drivers and special ed aides, and that definitely allows for the extra responsibility and care that are needed for those students.”

Ritch hopes these bonuses will help attract more rivers passionate about helping students with special needs.

“Having somebody that actually does have the heart to manage that helps the whole process of school be less stressful,” she said.

The district says they have five special needs bus monitors and one driver who was hired back in October, and about six more drivers in training. They still have about 50 open bus driver positions and half of them are for special needs drivers. They are planning to host a hiring fair on Feb. 4 to fill these roles.

Over in Richmond County, the school system is still looking for bus drivers and mechanics. The district held a job fair at the transportation department on Wednesday.