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What Baltimore-area school districts are doing to work around bus driver shortage

What Baltimore-area school districts are doing to work around bus driver shortage
What Baltimore-area school districts are doing to work around bus driver shortage 02:52

BALTIMORE - From recruitment fairs to signing bonuses, it seems every school district is still trying to recruit bus drivers.

Driver shortages in recent years have caused school bus routes to be modified, or in some cases, canceled altogether.

"It hasn't been some of the chronic problems we've seen in other areas," said Harford County Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson. "It's hard. It gets harder every year. But, my team's keeping up with it."

Anne Arundel County Superintendent Mark Bedell says his goal is to staff drivers at 10 percent above capacity to avoid interruptions when drivers call out.

"Our bigger issue is filling these last 20 positions, and we have a good amount of people in training right now. But, then, making sure we have a bench."

On a day in 2021, several bus routes were canceled when about 80 drivers in Howard County called out sick and asked for better pay and benefits.

"Overcrowded, very, very short of drivers, and, again, there's nothing appealing to drive a bus anymore," Diann Withers, from Bowen Bus Service, said in 2021.

The district, this summer, announced a contract with Zum, a California-based bus company with a fleet of 250 buses. It'll also use smaller vehicles to integrate into routes.

"I had to consolidate routes," said Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano. "I had students on the bus longer. I had to do double-backs. Once they would deliver the students, the bus driver would go back to different parts of the neighborhood and pick up kids again."

Superintendent Martirano says the new contractor assured the district it will have additional drivers at the ready.

"On that first day, if we don't have enough bus drivers here, they've already contracted 40 bus drivers from other locations to have them come here, put them up in hotels until we are able to fill our positions," Martirano said.

Howard County will also have more students walking to schools this year, about 17,000 in total.

In neighboring Anne Arundel County, Dr. Bedell is also utilizing vans to make up for bus driver shortages.

"But, then, as they're doing these runs for us, it's freeing up larger school buses," Bedell said.

Bedell said those van drivers today are potential bus drivers tomorrow.

"This also serves as a pipeline now, because now as they're driving, we can now work to help them get their CDLs and eventually have them work up to drive school buses," Bedell said.

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