VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Shortages and slowdowns have mirrored the number of school bus drivers in recent years locally and nationally.
No one understands this better than Jason Lash, executive director of transportation and fleet management for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
“I started my career as a school bus driver in 1981 for Hampton City Public Schools and progressed over the years,” Lash explained. “Now I oversee one of the largest bus operations in Virginia here in Virginia Beach.”
Across our region, Lash himself has seen the ups and downs of school bus driver numbers. In his district alone, they need just over 60 drivers to fill the seats.
From mid-August to early September, Portsmouth Public Schools is looking to find 41 drivers, Suffolk needs more than 20, Williamsburg/James City County Schools are offering five vacancies and Chesapeake ranges to 97 driver positions full-time and 20 part -hourly positions.
Local School District Bus Driver Vacancies
|School districts||Total number of bus driver vacancies|
|Williamsburg/James City County||5|
Lash told 10 On Your Side that a recent decision to increase drivers’ starting salaries increased their employment rate exponentially. In the 2020-2021 school year, Lash said their vacancies were closer to 140.
A new starting wage of $21 an hour, with room for higher pay based on experience in addition to other benefits, seems to have helped that.
“We had a challenge, but in April our school board gave us approval to raise the salary,” Lash explained. “This allows us to pay the drivers, from day one, to come for training at $21 an hour. They are paid throughout the training, they receive health benefits and then, once they are hired, they receive other benefits.
Benefits for Virginia Beach drivers include entry into Virginia’s retirement system, a pay raise for previous CDL experience, health insurance, dental insurance, sick leave, personal leave, life insurance, disability coverage, a wellness program and flexible hours.
A unique benefit is the ability for drivers with children to accompany them during their shift. Lash said it’s a huge incentive for parents looking to save on childcare.
With many drivers already in training following the announcement of the increase, Lash hopes VBCPS bus driver seats will be filled by the end of 2022.
The added benefits and higher salaries that result in higher employment rates are a nod to the root of staffing shortages in school districts at all levels.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that state and local public education employment has fallen nearly 5% overall, with much larger declines in some states.
Household survey data shows the number of employed public K-12 teachers down 6.8%, school bus drivers down 14.7%, school custodians down 6 .0% and teaching assistants 2.6%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Low pay was a reported problem for staff long before the pandemic. From 2014 to 2019, the median weekly wage for school bus drivers was $493. On the other hand, the the median American worker earned $790 a week.
If you are looking to drive for a school district, you can apply here.
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