Competition with private companies and a relatively long training and licensing process for commercial drivers are contributing to the shortage. Not having enough drivers can cause delays and result in students being late for class, Frisco ISD Managing Director of Transportation Doug Becker said. Or it could result in services stopping altogether, like with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County, which had to cease student pick-ups from 15 FISD schools.
“Not having a pool of drivers available also has affected the growth of our organization, as we are unable to access more areas to bring more members into the clubs,” Boys & Girls Club CEO Marianne Radley said in an email.
Boys & Girls Clubs run an after-school program with character and leadership development, life skills and recreation opportunities for children ages 5-18. The Frisco club is located on McKinney Road near Frisco Commons park.
Drivers for the clubs would pick registered children up from their schools and drop them off at the clubs. For many students, this is the only way they have access to the programs the clubs provide, Radley said. The clubs had to cut back student pickups for two reasons. The first was that many bus drivers left the club as other companies began recruiting more during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second was that since the pandemic, student membership declined by about 62%, particularly with its teens, Radley said. It is not feasible to send the clubs’ few drivers out to pick up only one or two students at these schools, she said.
The clubs currently have two bus drivers to divide between the three club locations in Collin County. About 22% of the clubs’ overall membership decline is attributed to no longer being able to pick up at several schools across the county, not just FISD, Radley said.
If the club gets more drivers and memberships pick back up, the club can resume services to those schools it had to stop picking up from, she said.
“Our focus is to serve more kids more often and allow the youth of Collin County access to the after-school resources and services that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County provides,” Radley said in her email.
The clubs provide homework and college preparation help, which more students especially need after the pandemic affected education, Radley said.
One national study of 5 million students by the Northwest Evaluation Association projected the combination of a typical “summer slide” in learning and the disruption to schooling due to COVID-19 could cause regression for some students.
“These kids that we’re talking about are already one to two years behind in education because of the pandemic,” Radley said. “When I think about those kids that we can’t pick up because we don’t have drivers, it’s quite tragic.”
The school year is almost over, but the driver shortage could carry over to summer camp offerings too, Radley said. The Boys & Girls Clubs need drivers to take children to field trips. Without drivers, those activities would have to be curtailed, she said.
Retirees are often good fits for club drivers, Radley said, since they have the flexibility to work the part-time, afternoon schedule.
“We want them to have a happy and joyful disposition,” she said. “Our club kids are really good kids.”
Having just seven more drivers for the Boys & Girls Clubs would make a significant difference, Radley said.
“The fact that we don’t have drivers is something that a year ago, none of us would ever have thought about impacting our business, and it’s having an incredible impact,” she said. “It would be so much easier if we had these drivers.”
Frisco ISD needs
The transportation needs do not stop with the local nonprofit. Frisco ISD is also looking to hire 50 to 60 more bus drivers and monitors for the next school year, Becker said.
The pandemic has meant fewer students in school in person at the district, so the driver shortage was not as bad this year, he said. However, the district is looking at hiring more drivers for next year than it has in years past.
One of the major challenges for attracting school bus drivers is the part-time, split work schedule, Becker said. Drivers typically drive a morning route and an afternoon route with a break in the middle of the day.
A thriving economy makes it difficult to attract and retain drivers because private companies can offer more hours and higher pay, Becker said.
“With our current environment, it seems we’re kind of slowing down, and it’s a pace that concerns us,” said Roger Lents, assistant director of transportation for FISD.
FISD has extra drivers on standby, Becker said. But if the number of standby drivers does not meet the route needs, then office staff and mechanics have to make the drives, he said.
“That’s where it gets critical because all of our office mechanics have jobs they have to do during the day,” Becker said. “When you drive a bus route that takes five or six hours out of your day ... that pushes the district into an overtime situation. We want to avoid that as much as possible.”
Substitute drivers unfamiliar with where to go may have to pause to check the route, he said. Having drivers double up on routes may also result in delays, he said.
“We definitely want to avoid the situation where kids wouldn’t be picked up at all,” Becker said.
Lents, who started as a driver for the district, said it is a good job for people who want to make a difference in the lives of children.
“The schedule that we have mirrors the schedule the kids would have, so if you’re a mom and dad that wants to keep the same schedule with the kids while they’re in school, that’s a great fit there,” Becker said.
Training and licensing are also challenges when seeking drivers, Becker and Lents said. The school district provides paid training so drivers can get their commercial licenses and be ready in time for the start of the school year.
“If you’re a driver and you have no experience, it takes three to five weeks before we can really get you up and fully trained so you can pass the examination and become a certified bus driver,” Lents said.
Collin College offers commercial driver’s license training through a third-party vendor, R&B Vocational Training, to help meet the local need for professional drivers. The courses run for about four weeks. Students need to complete 200 hours of training to earn a Class A commercial driver’s license, which exceeds the Class B license needed to drive a school bus, a college spokesperson said.
Bryce Walker, one of the instructors for the commercial driver’s license course, said students are able to take their state tests to receive their licenses through the college. Going to a Texas Department of Public Safety office can sometimes result in a three- to four-month wait for a testing spot, he said.
The test is not an easy one, Walker said. On the state level, about 30% of people pass the first time, he said, which results in rescheduling and testing being backed up even more.
He said students who finish the course and get their commercial driver’s license can be placed in a job the week after class if they desire.
“We have about four or five different recruiters come in from different companies that are hiring straight out of our school,” Walker said.
The companies that Walker works with outsource about half of their contracts because they do not have enough drivers, he said. However, he is seeing more students take classes than in years past.
“A lot of jobs are gone, but truck driving, it’s still there, and there’s still high demand for it,” Walker said.
Those who are interested in filling bus driver roles at Frisco ISD can contact 469-633-6563 or visit www.friscoisd.org/employment/current-openings.
Bus drivers applying for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County can visit www.bgccc.org/about-us/careers.
More information about the commercial driver’s license classes offered at Collin College is available at www.collin.edu/ce/classes/truckdriving.html.