CROWLEY, La. — Acadia Parish School System is feeling the pinch of the nationwide school bus driver shortage that started last year when drivers quit their part-time jobs in fear of exposure to the virus and limited pay.
Many parents in Acadia are concerned about the amount of times their child's school bus has been late, inconsistent, or not shown up at all causing their kids and themselves to be late to both work and school.
Chris Cole is one of those concerned parents of three children in school in Acadia Parish. Cole and his wife rely on the bus to transport their kids to and from school everyday, but this past year their driver has been unreliable almost forty times.
"I am unavailable to put the kids on the bus in the mornings, and my wife is a school teacher so she often is late to her class because she either has to bring the kids to school when the bus doesn't come, or wait longer at the bus stop when the bus is late," says Cole. "It's been happening quite often."
Scott Richard, the Superintendent of Acadia Parish Schools says that the school board is aware of the issue and are working on ways to address it this summer in preparation for next school year.
Richard says that the school board will be working to recruit a handful of reliable drivers, as well as a number of substitutes who can serve as back up drivers. He says the pandemic played a major role in limiting the number of school bus drivers able and willing to work this year.
"It's been very difficult to recruit and train bus drivers given the current economic conditions that we are in due to the pandemic," says Richard. "It's a very hard labor area to address and it's not just a local problem, but a national problem."
In the meantime, Richard apologizes for the inconvenience that the shortage has caused parents and children throughout the area.
"We certainly apologize to our customer, our parents, in regards to the inconsistency that we have had this year," says Richard. "All we can do right now is pledge and commit to making it a better experience when the school year starts in August by beginning to recruit now."
And as for parents like Cole, they just don't want to see their children be forgotten at the bus stop anymore.
"Let's not neglect them at this time," he says. "Let's put our time and efforts into finding them good transportation to and from school so that they can continue to succeed in their education."
Richard says that the issue and solution to the school bus driver shortage will be brought up in the next school board meeting which will take place on June 7th at 7pm.
KATC reached out to other Acadiana districts and this is what they told us:
There is a regular bus driver and substitute bus driver shortage for the school system, thus the efforts to ramp up recruiting efforts for the upcoming school-year.
The school system's contracted service provider currently has 7 routes in need of full-time, permanently assigned drivers. In total, they run 80 routes per day.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, securing regular bus drivers and substitute bus drivers presented challenges. However, many variables associated with the pandemic have only worked to exacerbate the challenges with securing permanent drivers on the same routes on a daily basis.
Evangeline Parish Schools contract with First Student for new bus drivers. First Student says they have 87 routes in total, which is about average. The only open positions they are hiring for now is for substitutes.
The Iberia Parish School Board said it does have a school bus driver shortage. They said they anticipate having about 8 or more openings. Currently, they have substitutes to fill those positions, and retirees have also returned to fill the shortages.
According to Raymond Noel, the Transportation Supervisor, there has been a bus driver shortage for a long time.
St. Landry Parish
The St. Landry Parish School Board says they have 170 bus drivers total, and say they're mostly covered. They go down to about 60-70 drivers in the summer.
St. Martin Parish
The St. Martin Parish School Board says that all of its positions are currently filled but we do have a shortage. We do not have very many substitutes which is what creates the problem. There have been times when we have no substitutes and have to rely on the buddy system to get the students to and from school. This has been a problem for the last 8 to 10 years.
All of the Vermilion Parish School Board's routes are currently filled, but they are looking to hire substitute drivers.
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