Woodford schools, like other districts, need bus drivers
School districts across Kentucky are dealing with a shortage of bus drivers to varying degrees. "This is happening at a large number of districts around the state, and it's primarily driven by the improving economy," said Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) spokesman Brad Hughes. He said the pool of applicants for substitute driver positions are "down dramatically in a number of districts around the state." Woodford County Public Schools would like to hire some additional bus drivers - particularly substitute drivers to cover routes when regular drivers miss work, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. "We're probably in better shape than most (school districts)," said Hawkins. However, he said his district has one bus route that does not have a regular, full-time driver. Typically, one of the three drivers for vocational education routes to Lexington will do early-morning pickups on that route and a mechanic will pick up those students in the afternoon. "So we are one short, which is probably better than what most (school districts) are dealing with at this point in time," said Hawkins. Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) spokesperson Nancy Rodriguez said that KDE has been made aware of bus driver shortages based on news stories and conversations with employees of school districts. However, she said KDE does not have any formal data on how many districts are facing bus driver shortages or how many drivers those districts need. Based on his conversations with superintendents in the state, Hawkins said other districts are running into the issue of not have enough bus drivers. School districts in other states are also facing bus driver shortages. "I have seen this popping up elsewhere," said Hughes, "so it's not just a Kentucky thing." The KSBA spokesman said Kentucky school districts are doing "everything under the sun" to bolster their pool of applicants for bus driver positions. This shortage of applicants has become an issue for more school districts across the state this year than in past years, he added. Woodford County Public Schools has started doing more advertising in an effort to get more applications for bus driver positions. Once trained, new hires begin as substitute drivers before being transitioned to regular routes, Hawkins said. Bus drivers here "do a good job of showing up every day," he explained, "so you don't have to deal with a lot of absenteeism," which he said has reduced issues related to not having enough drivers for the district's 43 bus routes. The Woodford County Board of Education recently approved a new salary schedule, which included an increase in pay for bus drivers to make the district more competitive with other, surrounding school districts, Hawkins said. The starting salary for drivers in Woodford County was raised to $14.71 an hour, he said. "I have seen far more references (from school districts) this year to having to up the hourly rate (for bus drivers) by a buck or buck-and-a-half . because they know that they are not paying what the neighbors are paying," said Hughes. Hawkins cited the nature of a bus driver's typical schedule - a few hours in the morning and a few more in the afternoon - as another issue. "It's a split shift, and sometimes that presents a little bit of a challenge too," he explained. Hughes pointed out that Jefferson County Public Schools has had to cancel bus routes this year because the district did not have enough regular and substitute drivers to cover those routes. In another district, the superintendent regularly drives a bus route, Hughes said. "And it's not unheard of at all," he continued, "for the transportation director (in many districts) to have to fill in and drive a bus on a spot need." With one of her routes not handled by a regular driver, Kay Tegethoff, director of transportation for Woodford County schools, has covered that route on occasion, Hawkins said.