Students across North Texas have faced delays in getting to school as districts are short of bus drivers.
On August 15, Garland ISD announced it was facing significant staffing shortages. That morning, some students were two hours late to school because there were not enough bus drivers to cover the bus routes.
A staff member said the district still needed about 52 drivers, mainly owing to the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garland ISD dedicated a Twitter page to post updates on delayed routes. Officials asked for parents’ patience while they worked to get back to routine. However, some parents complained about the long wait time.
Mom Christine Miller told WFAA that her son, who took the bus back home during the first week of school, got back to the bus stop at 6:15 p.m. Another mom, Ashley Martinez, said her son did not get picked up until 9 a.m. on the second day of school. He was dropped off after 5 p.m., she said.
The bus driver shortage has caused districts to offer a variety of incentives to make the position attractive.
Irving ISD, which also said it lacks drivers, implemented sign-on bonuses of up to $750 for potential drivers and $1,000 in bonuses for district employees who referred drivers.
To get the message out there, the district also commissioned radio ads and digital ads.
Until it finds more drivers, Irving ISD asked parents to use an online link to locate qualifying children’s bus stops with their arrival and departure times.
Fort Worth ISD faced the same challenge last school year after losing a quarter of its drivers in the previous two years of the pandemic.
In April, FWISD lacked drivers for 40 routes and was looking to fill 100 positions. But officials said this year, the district overcame the obstacle and was in a better place after making its bus routes more efficient and hiring dozens of new drivers.
Students need dependability and consistency in their transportation just as in their education, said Dr. Joseph Coburn, chief of district operations for Fort Worth ISD.
“Students want to know that they’re going to see the same driver every day, just like they want to see the same teacher every day,” he added.
Coburn said the district was still looking for more drivers to keep the “fleet strong” and ensure reliability. FWISD was trying to get about 30 more bus drivers to cover field trips and help out in cases when drivers get sick or go on vacation.
The problem of bus driver shortages is not the only way local schools have come up short since the pandemic. Students’ academic performance at many school districts also saw declines, especially in their STAAR results.
In 2019, 78% of Texas students met the criteria to pass the STAAR test, but in 2021, the numbers dropped to 67%. In Garland ISD, 78% of students passed in 2019. In 2021, Garland ISD STAAR Test results dropped to 62%.
Irving ISD’s 2021 passing rate fell to 52% from 73% in 2019. At Fort Worth ISD, only 50% of students met the minimum requirement in 2021 — 17% lower than its 67% rate in 2019.
While Dallas ISD was not facing a shortage of bus drivers when the school year began, it too struggled with poor academic outcomes. The district recorded an overall passing rate of 60% for the 2021 STARR test, dropping from 73% in 2019.