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Addressing Driver Shortages: School Transportation Departments Seek Answers

Few images personify the dawning of a new school year like the sight of bright yellow buses gliding down local roadways. Behind the scenes, the process of transporting students to and from school is often far from smooth.

In South Carolina, a shortage of qualified bus drivers is threatening to disrupt how and when students get to school. Beth Brotherton, spokeswoman for the Greenville County Schools, the state’s largest district, tells the Greenville News that the district has the “bare minimum number” of bus drivers required to ferry students to and from school. If even one driver resigns, or calls in sick, the district could be faced with asking trainers and safety inspectors to step in.

Ryan Brown, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Education, says Greenville is not alone in its struggles to find and hire school bus drivers. “All districts often struggle to find school bus drivers, which can lead to drivers having double routes and longer route times,” he says.

Transportation made difficult

In a 2016 survey of school transportation directors and managers by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, more than half of school transportation leaders said driver shortages were their No. 1 problem or concern. While nearly 60 percent of respondents said driver shortages are getting worse.

Last year, parents in Chesterfield County, Va., reported bus stop wait times of up to 28 minutes, reports the local CBS affiliate. For many parents, the problem was compounded by poor communication about the delays.

“I understand as a parent that things will occur but without having any proper communication, how am I supposed to automatically know what is going on?” asked Kimberly Torres, mother of a Chesterfield County second grader.

Turning disaster into satisfaction

Ask Kaden Jacobs, director of communications for Georgia’s Richmond County School System, about the importance of clear communication between the transportation department and the home and he reaches back to the first day of school nearly three years ago.  

It was “an awful first day,” says Jacobs. The district faced more than 1,000 inquiries from parents and community members about transportation-related issues, and administrators struggled to keep up. The local news eventually caught wind of the problem, and negative headlines only served to make the jobs of Jacobs and other members of the team harder.

The district knew it had to do something to help school transportation leaders improve communication and customer service. So they turned to Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight.

A custom button and form on the transportation department’s website enables community members to send inquiries directly to transportation officials. On the backend, the technology immediately logs the information and routes it to the right person to respond or to collaborate with other team members on a more timely and accurate response.

Since integrating Let’s Talk!, department officials say the perception among community members has changed. “In the past, if parents weren’t happy with an answer they received from district staff, they’d go to the deputy superintendent or the superintendent and say, ‘No one ever talked to me. No one ever called me back.” Since implementing Let’s Talk! and putting the focus on customer service communication, “I don’t think we’ve had one negative transportation story or even a story about transportation,” he says.

Is your school or district facing school transportation challenges this year? What steps are you taking to address these challenges? Tell us in the comments.