With the holidays approaching, New Jersey schools still need bus drivers

Almost three months into the school year, adjustments continue to be made to accommodate the shortage of bus drivers.

The shortage is nowhere near as bad as it was a year or even a few months ago, but districts and bus companies are walking on pretty thin ice and would still like to welcome more riders into their ranks.

‚ÄúThere are areas where employment is better. It may be harder to find a driver in one district than another,” said Chloe Williams, president of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association.

The median age of a school bus driver has declined somewhat in the Garden State, Williams noted, as younger individuals fill in the spots left by older workers who hung up their keys for good during the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Williams, driver hiring in the state is “steadily improving.” But getting students to school on time isn’t as common these days as it was in years past. Some counties have been forced to shift their ring times to allow drivers to catch up on their routes.

Staff shortages remain significant across the workforce spectrum, including drivers, according to the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Richard Bozza, executive director, said the association has formed a special committee to study the problem and possible solutions.

To ease staff pressure, Deptford Township Public Schools began the 2022-2023 school year by combining middle and high school students on the same buses.

The idea caused traffic congestion at schools and was scrapped.

The district is relying on external help this year, but is still looking for applicants. In addition to competitive pay, the district offers bonuses to drivers who work 175 to 180 days per school year.

“If one or two people are sick, it’s not the end of the world. But if there’s three, four, five, you’re kind of miserable,” said Sal Randazzo, the district communications coordinator.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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