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School district needs bus drivers

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jul 27, 2021

news@breezenewspapers.com

The School District of Lee County is in critical need of hiring more bus drivers to ensure kids will arrive to school on-time.

“The reality is we have 699 routes scheduled for this upcoming school year. Right now we only have 661 drivers. We are 38 drivers short of covering our routes. When you look at the industry standards, absentee is 10 to 12 percent. We need an additional 70 subs just to cover daily absenteeism,” Director of Transportation Roger Lloyd said of the 108 drivers needed. “It’s a nationwide problem. Everybody seems to be lacking CDL drivers. Once they get the CDL, it is a competitive market and everybody is hurting. CDL drivers are in demand in all of the industries.”

The difference, he said is Lee County is such a big district, providing a challenge in having enough bus drivers to cover the routes.

To help entice driver’s, the district began an incentive program. Bus drivers will directly be hired as regulars, meaning an hourly wage of $16.32, full benefits, life insurance and becoming apart of the Florida Retirement System. Lloyd said it is a huge change, as previously bus drivers would be brought on as a substitute driver without benefits, waiting their turn for an opening to be brought on as a regular hire.

Drivers will go through training with the school district, therefore, the district paying for all the fees to be trained to get a CDL license.

“We are starting to see a positive trend,” he said. “A class finished Monday with eight potential drivers. Today (the class had) 13 people in it.”

Drivers go through eight days of classroom training, before heading out to the bus to get training there. Lloyd said behind the wheel training can last anywhere from eight hours to a week and a half.

“We never want to force anybody to get on the road until they are completely comfortable behind the wheel,” he said.

This is all done before being tested for the CDL license.

“We are still in desperate need of drivers. We need drivers willing to work hard, are professional and love to work with kids,” he said.

Those interested in applying for a bus driver’s position are asked to visit www.leeschools.net. Lloyd said if individuals are having problems with applying online, they can call (239) 590-4048.

Many of the district’s drivers quit last year when the pandemic began, as many of their drivers were retirees from up north that work for a few hours in the morning and afternoon during the school year.

“When we started the summer last year, I had 136 drivers that were over 65 years of age. They fell into the older and preexisting category. A lot did not feel comfortable coming back to work and putting kids on the buses,” Lloyd said. “We took a big hit with the older population. A lot of them thought they would come back, but what they learned over a year is if they cut out going out to dinner, cut back on their budget, they could really get by without the job.”

The consequence, or result of not having enough drivers, directly impacts the students as they will be picked up late, dropped off at school late, and missing instructional time.

“It’s not in the best interest of the kids,” Lloyd said. “It is a critical situation that will negatively impact kids if we don’t get our drivers. Kids will be late.”

The current drivers, he said are great individuals that really care about the kids.

“Our drivers are working overtime and getting burnt out. It becomes a draining type of job by the end of the week,” Lloyd said.

Last year the district had a better than 96 percent on-time bus delivery rate to school. Part of that success rate was due to the 40 percent decrease in ridership, as many kids were doing virtual learning, or had parents home that could drive them to school.