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Midlands in desperate need for bus drivers as some students wait nearly an hour at bus stops

A school bus driver shortage is forcing bus drivers to double up on routes and causing parents and students to wait for nearly an hour at the bus stop.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A school bus driver shortage has many parents and students waiting at the bus stop for nearly an hour long, if not more.

The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) says the school bus driver shortage in South Carolina reflects a national trend.

"It could be up to 45 minutes, it could be longer if I don't take them myself," said Richland One parent Miracle Wright. "Sometimes, I don't choose to wait that long."

Wright, who is Elijah and Amelia Wright's mother, said the bus driver shortage is frustrating. She said the inconsistent pick up and drop off times worries her. 

"Sometimes it'd be unpredictable times when they come," Wright said. "Either they come too early like today, or they come way to late and I have to be the one to drop them off." 

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"I'm like, where is my child? Why hasn't anyone contacted me to let me know if they're okay or not?" Wright said. "If I try to get in contact with the school, I feel frustrated at the schools because no one is answering the phones because I'm trying to get in contact with my child. I'm sure other parents are frustrated, too. I want to know what's going on and why the time is taking so long for them to get off the bus."

Wright said the district's supervisor of transportation told her students arriving late will be marked tardy, unless they are coming off a school bus. 

Wright told News 19 carpool is an option for her children, but she's concerned about close contacts in a small space with COVID. 

"With them, I have no option but to put them on the bus because I don’t have transportation myself," Wright said. "If I had transportation, like I did in the beginning, I would be picking them up and dropping them off, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the transportation. But now that we started riding the bus because my car is unfortunately down, I have to worry about the bus and what time it comes, or what time it drops them off, if I'm late or too early."

Wright said where she lives, walking to school is also an option but it poses a safety risk for her and her children due to the lack of visibility in the mornings. 

"Even though I don't live far from the school, it's still a danger of me walking to and from school with a child," Wright said. "A child, a baby, and my toddler kids. The dangers for me, if something were to happen to me and not be able to pick them up from school, that's what worries me. And again, for me with them carpooling, I have to worry about COVID. You know, riding in a tight space?"

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Richland Two is also in need of bus drivers. At the moment, many are having to pick up an extra route every day. 

"Usually, the students are going to get to school later, usually 30 to 40 minutes later than they normally would," said Richland Two bus driver Tom Caruso. "They're also standing out at the stop an additional 30 or 40 minutes or waiting at the school waiting to be picked up for another 30 to 40 minutes. It's an inconvenience for the bus drivers but it's also an inconvenience for the students."

Caruso has been driving a school bus for 12 years for the district. He said when bus drivers pick up extra routes, it causes a domino effect for other other schools. 

"When we take those extra routes, in the past, we would just put them all on the bus and take them all at once," Caruso said. "But now with COVID, if you have an extra route, we can't have that many people on the bus. So, we're having to drop one route off, and then come back and pick up the other route."

Jodi Regis is the Safety Manager for Richland Two. She said the district is in need of 20 bus drivers. 

"It puts more toll on our drivers to call in if they need an appointment to do something themselves," Regis said. "We have to do what we have to do. But our most important part of it is getting them all home safe in the same condition they were given to us."

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Regis said some parents are understanding but others are frustrated at the situation. She said parents need to make sure their contact information is up-to-date on the parent portal; that is how the school will contact parents about any changes for bus routes, updates and delays. 

According to the Chief Communications Officer for Lexington School District One, the district is in need of 36 school bus drivers. Currently, there are 11 drivers out due to COVID-19 or other health reasons. 

Some districts are offering sign-on bonuses, training, and other incentives for people who apply and become bus drivers. 

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According to Lexington One: 

"The district recently increased bus driver pay by 5% in addition to the $1 per hour increase.

Drivers receive four to six weeks of South Carolina Department of Education driver training which includes classroom and behind-the-wheel training. Our district’s transportation office conducts the training. Drivers are paid during this training period.

As with all Lexington District One employees, bus drivers must pass a background check before gaining employment.

Interested job seekers can apply today here.

Our pay range is $14.05 to $21.30 an hour, and we offer pay commensurate with professional experience. Average hours are 6–8:30 a.m. and 1:30–4:30 p.m.

We not only offer health insurance, annual leave and sick leave, but we also provide drivers with an opportunity to join the State Retirement System.

Bus drivers receive Thanksgiving, Winter Break, Spring Break and summers off. Drivers could also have the opportunity to drive for some summer programs.

 The district works with drivers to help them obtain a CDL and provides drivers with paid training. This training consists of online training classes during the week and an evening class each month."

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In Richland Two:

"New Bus drivers will receive the following monetary incentives based on time worked over the employee’s first year of continuous employment.

Richland Two also offers paid CDL training for interested applicants who do not have a commercial driver’s license and bus driver certification for those who do.

Drivers are eligible for health and dental coverage, as well as retirement plans.

The Richland Two School starting salary for a school bus driver is $16.36 with a guarantee of at least 7 hours per day.

Applicants must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma (or GED) and pass rigorous South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) background checks.

  • New Drivers – 0 Exp = Up to $1,500

  • With CDL = Up to $2,250

  • With CDL + PS = Up to $3,000"

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In Richland One: 

Richland One is offering bus driver applicants some of the best and most competitive financial incentives in the Midlands, including signing bonuses, paid training and college tuition reimbursement.

Richland One's starting rate is $16.08 an hour. 

New bus drivers receive a $500 signing bonus, plus Richland One offers paid CDL training for interested applicants who do not have a commercial driver’s license and bus driver certification for those who do. The district also offers health and dental coverage as well as college tuition reimbursement for bus drivers who want to pursue a higher education degree.

Training to receive the CDL is free.

Applicants must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma (or GED) and pass rigorous South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) background checks. Applications may be submitted online via the district’s website (www.richlandone.org). From the home page, click on the Employment tab then click on Apply Online; go to External Applicants then click on Start an Application for Employment.

For more information, contact Grisham at rick.grisham@richlandone.org or (803) 231-7002, or Dennis Jones, safety and training manager for the district, at dennis.jones@richlandone.org or (803) 691-5593.

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