DeKalb County School Buses Face Overcrowding, Driver Shortages

Row of yellow school buses against autumn treesStudents in DeKalb County, Georgia, could be facing more crowded commutes to school if their district can’t hire more bus drivers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta-area district is having trouble filling the vacancies for drivers who have quit over complaints of pay and work conditions.

DeKalb Superintendent Steven Green said that the complaints raised at a recent school board meeting were the first he’d heard of these issues.

Drivers also complained of crowding on buses, and ironically, the problem may only get worse with all of the vacancies.

Although 118 drivers have been hired since June, another 69 have resigned since then, according to Green. Overall, the district has around 847 drivers for 817 routes, and they still need at least 30 more to cover them.

But if that doesn’t happen, students could be crowded in four to a seat and may even have to stand. That’s something that the district and parents fear for safety reasons.

DeKalb isn’t the only Atlanta-area county that need more drivers, though. Clayton County started out the school year with a shortage, which led to buses filled to capacity and some drivers handling multiple routes. According to a spokesperson for the district, they’re still about 15 drivers short.

Cobb County schools face a similar problem; full staff for bus drivers is at about 935, but they’re still short by about 40 drivers. The district has opted for a second run with pickups and dropoffs rather than overcrowding school buses.

Buses have been popular for regular travel in and between cities since the 1830s, when the first steam-powered buses were created in England. Since then, they’ve evolved to produce fewer emissions, and millions of people in inner-city areas rely on public, school, and charter bus lines to get where they need to go.

Yet oftentimes the shortages with the number of buses or bus drivers goes back to budget concerns. Fortunately, some districts have taken creative approaches to solving that problem.

Gwinnett County, also just outside of Atlanta, hasn’t faced any shortages, but instead has found new ways to make money and support the district’s transportation department. They’ve added cameras to their buses and now ticket drivers who don’t stop for students crossing the road.

Around 100 drivers are ticketed each day for that offense, according to a report from BizJournals.com, leading to more than $573,000 in funds due to fines collected. The county expects the district to collect around $1.5 million in such fines this year.

Although the fines have angered drivers, who say they’ve received tickets if they failed to stop a second or two after the sign came out, they have provided steady revenue for the district.

That could help districts like DeKalb hire more drivers, who get paid $15.55 per hour.

Green, however, says that the drivers are actually paid more than paraprofessionals in classrooms, despite claims that drivers are paid less. The district gave drivers a 2% raise for this year, and they should receive the same pay hike next year, as well.

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