South Carolina school bus driver shortage sparks call for reform

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

LANCASTER, S.C. - Lancaster is just one of many school districts in South Carolina struggling to hire and keep school bus drivers.

Officials said 2017 is the worst they've seen.

They are short eight drivers and some are driving double routes to make sure students get home, and buses aren’t often on time.

Melissa Jones said that's what her child's driver told her when she was late on Tuesday.

The driver told Jones she was sorry and that she has extra routes.

The state has strict guidelines for school bus drivers and many who apply don't qualify.   

Lancaster school district safety director Bryan Vaughn said in the last class of 30 applicants, two were hired.

Vaughn said they're dealing with the issue as best they can, but they feel like the hiring process in South Carolina should be streamlined.

Currently, prospective bus drivers must have a drug test, a health screening, obtain a commercial drivers’ license, have 20 hours of in-class training and have a minimum of 10 hours on the road.

Officials said training and hours on the road are often last much longer -- closer to 40 hours.

Transportation officials believe they can use technology so applicants can take some training online rather than attend a class.  

Retention of drivers is another problem.   

It's a job with a split shift, which is three hours in the morning, then three to four more hours in the afternoon.   

Pay is about $12 an hour and there's the stress of dealing with frustrated parents and rowdy behavior on the bus.   

Most drivers are lost during the summer when drivers are not paid and often find full-time jobs.

Rock Hill Schools officials told Channel 9 the district has enough drivers, but if some call in sick or have family issues that keep them off the job, it's a struggle. 

Vaughn said the district would also consider hiring teacher's aides as bus drivers because they are already on campus.   

The shortage is an issue they hope the state will address.

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