NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — It's 'help wanted' when it comes to school bus drivers. In some places, there's not enough to start the school year.
According to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, nearly 80% of its more than 600 members across the state are experiencing a moderate to severe driver shortage. That's a deficit of 15% to 20% among schools and private contractors.
"It is going on everywhere,” said Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie. “It adds another layer of complexity to the opening of school when it's already a complex problem.”
His district's bus contracting company is still needs another 13 drivers. Experts say this has been a problem for years, but it's been made worse by the COVID-10 pandemic. Many drivers left over health concerns, others may have found new jobs in other industries like delivery services. It leaves districts and bus companies trying new ways to hire people.
"We also know that a bus driver is a staggered scheduled day kind of a job," Laurrie said. "You were in the morning and you work late in the afternoon. In the middle of the day we'll employ you in our kitchen so you can get a full day's worth of work."
Some districts have had to get creative with their school day and bus schedules. At Niagara Falls, they're expecting possible delays for their high school students, and encouraging those who can to drive themselves or get a ride. Laurrie is urging patience among students and parents.
"It is the single biggest concern I have going into the school year," Laurrie said. "Not COVID. Not safety. Not academics. Not coming back. It's transportation."