GOWANDA — A nationwide shortage of bus drivers continues to impact Gowanda Central School District, according to Transportation Supervisor Annette Nelson.
While many schools across the country struggle to staff their student transport services, Gowanda is going through a particularly difficult time after the retirement of two bus drivers and the death of another. Nelson shared with the Board of Education this month that the district added only one new driver this year, leaving the district with just 11 drivers on staff. She noted that the situation could also become even more serious, as two drivers currently employed are planning to retire.
At the recent Board of Education meeting, Nelson presented a study on the reorganization of bus routes planned for the coming school year and how students would benefit from more bus drivers. ‘bus.
In the first example of the study, with 10 standard full-size bus runs – as is expected to happen at the August 17 meeting – the first student picked up would be on the bus in average just over 31 minutes. , while the average journey time for a student would be just under 32 minutes. The longest duration of these first 10 students on the bus would be estimated at 36 minutes and the shortest duration would be estimated at 27 minutes.
If Gowanda were to hire three additional full-time drivers, the district could set up 14 standard bus routes. In this example, the time a student spends on the bus would be reduced to an average of 24.6 minutes, a difference of over 7 minutes for each student.
As with both examples, all times are subject to change under special circumstances, such as severe weather conditions or if COVID restrictions that require social distancing come into effect again. If social distancing was needed – or if additional staffing issues arose where 10 journeys could not be staffed – the possibility of grouping bus journeys would be considered and times for all affected pupils would increase. Last school year, 456 students were assigned transportation through the system.
“If we are forced to return to social distancing on buses, everything will change significantly. … It really impacts us a lot,” Nelson said.
The biggest obstacle to implementing the proposed 14-trip plan is simply that there aren’t enough drivers willing and able to do the job. Hiring bus drivers has become even more difficult in recent years, especially since the federal government now requires additional training on top of what was previously required. Due to a lack of interest and an unwillingness to dramatically increase pay to attract new drivers, Gowanda is left in the position he has been in since last year – wishing he could hire more drivers but didn’t. not getting enough interest.
The district is also open to the possibility of hiring part-time drivers, either for a morning run or an afternoon run. However, as there has not been much interest from qualified applicants, there are currently no part-time drivers on staff.
“It was something that I entertained. … No one came to me with that request,” Nelson said.