Omaha school bus driver shortage could mean longer routes, more students on buses
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Public Schools will have all of its students in class by the end of the week, and the district is concerned about getting all of nearly 22,000 students who ride the bus to school on time.
As a nationwide problem, the district is having a hard time finding enough people to drive the school buses. Throughout the spring and summer, OPS conducted multiple job fairs and officials say they will continue to recruit throughout the year.
But right now, the district doesn’t have enough people to drive the students to school.
“Every year, it’s not unusual for us to have a shortage of drivers. However, this year, we have seen an increase. We are sure that some of that is contributed to post-pandemic situations. So right now, we think we have probably a 25 to 30% increase in staff vacancies,” said Trevis Sallis, OPS Student Transporation Director.
He says that shortage means longer routes and more students on some buses.
“So we will have some students that will arrive to school late. Those routes where we had to consolidate or piggyback if you will, those routes will allow the student to be late to school. So that is a change from day-to-day business, said Sallis.
OPS has been in touch with families to update them on how the shortage will affect their students. Amanda Brown is worried that longer routes will mean her daughter will begin her school career spending too much time on the bus.
“I think it makes it for a long day, for my four-year-old getting on going to school and then coming home like a really long day for her,” said Brown.
Sallis says consolidated routes will mean more students on some buses but he doesn’t think that will be a problem during the pandemic.
“We’ve never used the routing process or concept of routing the bus to capacity from the beginning so there’s always been some room to allow students to have a little flexibility. So now we anticipate with COVID just increasing the numbers will be more of a normal capacity rate,” said Sallis.
But that concerns Amanda with a young child getting on the bus and even a younger child at home.
“The delta variant is rising and having an 18-month-old and having a new one worries me about her bringing it home,” said Brown.
Bus drivers need a commercial driver’s license to drive a school bus. OPS offers paid training to help applicants pass the test.
It will still be a challenge to attract drivers. The district is competing with trucking companies that pay drivers with CDL’s much more money.
“It’s an industry shortage so any job pretty much throughout the country where you need a CDL. We’re competing with those organizations and companies.”
OPS officials say they will continue to update parents on the busing situation and encourage parents to stay in touch with their student’s school.
As the district works through these challenges, parents can call the district’s call center at 531-299-0141 with any questions.
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