School bus

A sign on this school bus parked at Halifax County High School advertises the need for drivers and substitute drivers amid a shortage.

Each day, the thought that crosses Halifax County Public Schools transportation director Tammy Moore’s mind is, “Will there be any bus drivers to manage all the routes today?” as they continue to look for additional bus drivers and substitutes.

Oftentimes, bus drivers have to double up on their routes to get all the bus riders home from school. Sometimes, Moore and/or members of the maintenance staff have to get behind the wheel and drive a bus route.

“I’ve driven several routes already this year. A couple of routes, I have driven a lot,” Moore said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

HCPS has between 125 and 130 buses on the roads every day of the school year, in addition to 27 special needs car routes and drivers, Moore said. She explained while the school system does not actually have a shortage of regular bus drivers, many of those bus drivers have been out this school year for “various reasons,” and the school system does not have enough substitute bus drivers to fill in for regular bus drivers who are unavailable to drive their routes.

Moore said she believes COVID-19 is the main reason for the shortage of substitute bus drivers.

“A lot of people just don’t want to get on a bus right now,” she stated.

When the school transportation director first started driving a school bus 20 years ago, she said the list of substitute bus drivers filled the entire front and back of a sheet of paper. Now, Moore said the list comprises only a “small section of the front sheet of a page.”

HCPS superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg pointed out the current bus driver shortage is a nationwide problem not unique to the local school system, with some school districts even paying parents to drive bus routes. He asks parents to bear with the school system as they work out solutions.

“We apologize to folks up front; we’re working through it the best way we can,” Lineburg said.

The main solution to the shortage of substitute bus drivers that the school system has found this school year is asking bus drivers with short routes to double up on their routes. Moore explained the bus drivers drive their regular bus routes, and once they are finished that route, they return to the school and pick up the students waiting there and take those students home, driving a second route of the afternoon.

What those double routes mean for the students is they have to wait at school for 20 to 30 minutes after the end of the school day to board a school bus and go home for the day. Moore added because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the bus driver has to disinfect the school bus after running a route before letting more students onto the bus for their second route, which takes time.

The school system sometimes has very little notice that a bus driver will not be available that afternoon to drive a route, and for that reason, letting the parents know ahead of time which bus routes will be delayed is difficult, Moore said.

“If you’re a parent of a bus rider and are anxious about it, call the school or the bus shop and we can let you know if your child’s bus is one of the buses that are delayed that day,” Moore offered.

HCPS is offering a training course for substitute bus drivers the last week of October, and anyone interested in being a substitute bus driver is welcome to stop by the bus shop, located behind Halifax County Middle School, and pick up an application. Moore said several people have already picked up applications, and she is hopeful that more will come by for an application.

The school system will pay for the bus driver training for each applicant after he or she has completed five days of substitute bus driving, Moore noted. She said substitute bus drivers are required to hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with PNS endorsements, pass a physical examination and a drug test, and pass a criminal background check.

Moore is advocating for higher pay for substitute bus drivers, something that she believes would encourage more people to apply for the position.

“I’m really pushing for bus driver pay to be more, because there’s a lot they have to do,” Moore stated.

Substitute bus drivers currently earn just under $60 per day, and regular, full-time bus drivers earn between $79 and $86 per day, according to the school transportation director.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.