Bedford County Public Schools is struggling to recruit and retain bus drivers, and administrators are getting creative with ideas for how to address the shortage.
At Thursday’s Bedford County School Board meeting, Mac Duis, chief operations officer, and LeeAnn Calvert, director of recruitment and retention, discussed the division’s “critical need for bus drivers.” Currently, Duis said, the division is 23 drivers short for the upcoming school year.
Calvert said the division has struggled for a number of years to find bus drivers to staff the division’s bus routes. Calvert said the division has tried several recruitment strategies, such as posting flyers in schools, paying for driver training and certification exams, and encouraging coaches to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
Administrators have gone to parent-teacher association meetings to try to recruit new drivers, and current staff were incentivized to recruit new drivers. Calvert said she is even working to get car magnets and yard signs to help advertise the division’s need.
On Thursday, Duis and Calvert presented the board with a plan that would ease the need from 23 drivers to 12. By adjusting the drop-off and pick-up schedules for elementary school routes, the current drivers could drive both elementary and secondary routes each day.
“We currently have a number of drivers who only drive one longer route, and shifting drop-off in the morning five minutes earlier and pick up in the afternoon 15 minutes earlier, we can allow those drivers enough time to make a longer secondary run as well,” Duis said.
Under this model, Duis said, elementary drop-off would shift from 7:30 a.m. to 7:25 a.m., which would allow drivers more time to move on to a route for a middle or high school. Elementary schools’ arrival window would shift from 7:30 a.m. to 7:55 a.m. to 7:25 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. — shortening the arrival window from 25 minutes to 15, which also would affect car riders. Elementary schools would implement a “grab-and-go” breakfast model to help compensate for that loss of time. Instructional time for elementary schools would shift from 7:55 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to 7:40 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Middle and high school drop-off, instructional and pick-up times would remain the same, Duis said. Superintendent Marc Bergin said this was intentional — the division did not want to impact the afternoon schedule for secondary students who likely are participating in extracurricular activities, playing sports or working.
Susan Kirby, vice chair of the board, expressed opposition to the idea, and said from a parent’s perspective, shortening that window could cause scheduling conflicts and stress for families, especially those who have students at multiple schools. Board member Georgia Hairston said from her perspective as a former principal, she worried shortening the arrival window to 15 minutes would not give students enough time to get in and prepare for the day.
Duis said implementing this plan would require adjustments from staff, families and students but also would provide several benefits. Allowing drivers time to complete both elementary and secondary routes would cut the bus driver need from 23 to 12, allow drivers to move from a 60% salary and benefits package to 80-100%, and it’s budget-neutral, he said.
While many board members expressed reservations regarding the idea, they also wanted staff to approach elementary school principals, families and staff to gauge their thoughts on the schedule change and how it would impact them. Duis said talking with those stakeholders would be the next step.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 5.