School bus driver shortage forces Kiski Area to adjust schedules – TribLIVE

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A shortage of drivers in the Kiski Area School District has resulted in adjustments to some school bus schedules.
School officials asked for patience during ongoing transportation adjustments to pickup and dismissal drop-off times in a post on the district’s official website.
John Tedorski, Kiski Area director of technology services and instruction, said the district has two open routes without permanent drivers.
“Several other drivers are off on medical leave and for various other reasons,” Tedorski said. “In addition to daily call-offs for illnesses, this creates a need to fill those empty seats and, in some cases, adjust routes.”
The district has contract agreements with two bus companies, Smith in Blairsville and Byers in Vandergrift.
Tedorski said he’s never seen a shortage of drivers like this before.
“In the past, we had to make similar arrangements a few times a year. Now we’re adjusting routes much more often,” he said.
The district has combined some routes to cover shortages on a temporary basis.
“Smith Busing has been able to move other drivers from their company onto our routes to cover some vacancies,” Tedorski said. “We would just like parents to be aware that the potential is there for us to have to delay transportation in the future if the staffing situation gets any worse.”
Byers owner Julia Martin credited the circumstances surrounding covid-19 conditions as the main reason for the shortage.
“Statewide, there’s a school bus driver shortage that stems back from the pandemic,” Martin said. “We had a few drivers that did not return this fall because they were afraid to be near children, choosing to stay close to home and stay in their bubble.”
Martin said about half of her drivers are retirees.
At Byers, van drivers aren’t required to hold a CDL license but must undergo a background check, and that can take four to six weeks to complete, Martin said.
School bus drivers are required to have a CDL license that includes a passenger endorsement.
Martin said a new hire can expect to spend about six weeks in school bus and classroom training before hitting the road.
Byers is down two drivers, and Martin said she has had to pull some of her mechanics out of the garage and onto the roads to help drive buses.
Both Byers and Smith declined to provide an hourly rate of pay for their school bus drivers.
Richard Serafin, a resource manager at Smith, said the company is short a handful of drivers.
“We always thought that things would pick up and people would start applying again when unemployment ended, but this has not occurred,” Serafin said. “We’re hopeful to get people in the door.”
Serafin stressed the impact some bus drivers have on their students.
“These people put in a lot of time, and it may be the first time the child has someone to talk to. The students look up to some of these bus drivers,” Serafin said. “I believe the drivers look at that, too, and they learn the students are their kids.”
Serafin said he’s hopeful more people will apply.
“I wish I knew the magic answer why they weren’t coming through the doors to become student bus drivers. This is a national problem,” Serafin said.
A recent report from Pew Trusts, “Bus Driver Shortage Stresses Rural School Districts,” called the school bus driver shortage a “crisis facing districts nationwide.”
The Pennsylvania School Bus Association launched a statewide You Behind The Wheel campaign last summer in an effort to recruit new drivers.
The district is asking anyone with a commercial drivers license interested in becoming a bus driver to contact Smith Busing at 724-459-6930.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725 , [email protected] or via Twitter .
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