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Bus driver shortage prevails in some Delaware school districts

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
Buses parked near Appoquinimink High School

The school year starts this week for many schools in the First State, but some districts are worried they don’t have enough bus drivers to transport students to and from school.



One by one, buses pull into Appoquinimink High School in Middletown, as drivers get to know their routes for the upcoming school year.


Transportation Supervisor Stacey McIntosh said the Appoquinimink School District’s “Day Zero”  is also a time for families to meet the drivers behind the wheels. The school district is trying to rebuild trust that eroded after parents started worrying if the buses would show up late or not at all. 


Last year, the district was more than 10 drivers short.


“This year we’re about six to 10 [drivers short], so we’re looking better, but the shortage is still in place,” McIntosh said.


McIntosh says the district has a few drivers in training. They’re hoping to fill the positions right as school starts on Sept. 5.


But there are consequences for the district if they can’t fill those jobs, she said.


“Students are waiting outside on late buses that they may not know are late, because we’re not notified, [they’re] missing instructional periods and their learning, and teachers — students arriving late, disruption in class, getting students back on task because of the late students arriving, or possibly staying late because of a late bus — it affects everybody all the way around,” McIntosh said.


One reason they’re having trouble finding people is low pay. Drivers work two-and-a-half hours in the morning and again in the afternoon for as little as $50 a day.  


Karin Wright has been a bus driver for five years. She says it’s hard to work another job in between the split shift. After landing a full-time position elsewhere, she’s now a substitute driver.


“A normal person who is not either retired or has a spouse with a full-time income can certainly not support themselves off of that minimal income of roughly five to six hours a day. And on top of that there’s also no medical benefits,” Wright said.

It’s a great job for retirees, but not the kind of job that can provide support for everybody, said Karen Brenwalt, the president of Donald C. McCain Inc., a bus contractor for the Appoquinimink District. Brenwalt said the other side of the bus driver shortage is that there is a rigorous training process before a driver can get behind the wheel.


Drivers have to take a two-day class with the state, a four-part test with the DMV to get their learner’s permit, a skills test, a background test, fill out child protection forms, and much more. The entire process typically takes three months to complete, Brenwalt said. 


Brenwalt said her business is affected just as much as the students, schools and district if they don’t have enough drivers.

“It’s very stressful,” Brenwalt said. “It just rolls downhill. We get calls, there’s kids not being picked up if a driver doesn’t show up.”


Other districts say they’re also having issues with a driver shortage. The Brandywine School District reports they’re about six drivers short. Transportation Supervisor Courtney DeVane said three employees just quit, making the district scramble just before the start of school. 


“We were in better shape two weeks ago than we are today, but the plan is basically utilizing our substitute drivers,” DeVane said.


Indian River School District reports they have more than 10 that are still taking their drivers’ tests. Transportation Systems Analyst Tyler Bryan said they are also trying to find substitute drivers to cover the routes at the beginning of the year.


Milford and Christina districts say they are staffed at the start of the year.

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