Green Country schools report easing bus driver shortage
3 mins read

Green Country schools report easing bus driver shortage

LIBERTY, Okla. — For the past several years, Green Country school districts have struggled to keep their bus drivers fully staffed.

Some of the shortages have led to bus route changes, delays and the need to immediately hire workers to fill the gaps.

Dr. Phillip Garland is not a school bus driver, but he used to be one.
“That was the beginning of my thoughts that I could work with schools and kids,” Dr. Garland said of his first job in college, driving school buses in Norman.

Now a principal at Liberty Public Schools, she welcomes children to the school grounds as she begins her final school year.

However, as many principals of rural schools in the Green Country will admit, bus drivers have been hard to find in recent years.

“It’s just harder to find people who are willing to do it, and the demands are greater, so it takes them a little longer. And the demands are greater,” Garland told 2 News.

But the situation across the region looked very different this summer, as county officials prioritized hiring and retaining drivers.

As of July 10, smaller districts like Liberty had two full-time drivers and athletic trainers, while Copan Public Schools told 2News it had a total of ten employees.

As for larger districts, Tulsa Public Schools reports 150 positions, with 15 still being sought, along with assistants and mechanics.

Union Public Schools said they are nine drivers short of the standards they want to achieve.

SEE: In 2022, the union proposed incentives to attract bus drivers.

UPS Bus Driver Shortage

With a month to go before school starts, Broken Arrow Public Schools needs just seven drivers and five mechanics to fill a full staff of 100 drivers and 12 mechanics.

TPS Director of Recruiting Jen Sanders explains what works for them.

“One of the unique things that Tulsa Public Schools does is we actually provide training for people to get their CDL license, so they don’t have to pay for additional training,” Sanders said. “Right now, our bus drivers can make up to $19 an hour, depending on experience.”

TPS held a job fair on July 10, but Sanders said districts are almost always open to accepting good candidates to lead.

“(July 10) is not a deadline at all,” Sanders added. “We actively recruit for these positions throughout the year.”

Garland said smaller districts likely have less money for incentives, but provide benefits to keep the wheels — and drivers — on their buses running.

“I never miss an opportunity to ask people, ‘Hey, how about driving a school bus for us?'”
The Economic Policy Institute found that school bus drivers earn significantly less than other workers.

In 2022, a driver earned about half the average worker’s salary.

The last time school bus drivers received a significant pay raise nationwide was in 2008.

Other reasons for the shortage: School bus drivers tend to be older than other workers, so they were more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, and many may have retired early in the pandemic.

The advisory team also noted an increase in confrontations with students and parents since schools reopened, which could be a further deterrent.

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