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Milford faces significant bus driver shortage

From: Milford Live! On Sunday, January 2, Milford School District notified parents that Milford High School students would operate on a remote learning schedule on January 3, 2022. The virtual learning requirement was due to a significant bus driver shortage. Although a snowstorm closed schools completely on Monday, the shortage of bus drivers in the state has grown to unmanageable levels.

“One thing I have to say, our contractors, our bus drivers really work together to make sure we run all our routes this year,” Dr. Kevin Dickerson told the Board of Education at their regular meeting in December. “We’ve had to collapse some routes at times and make routes where we’ve had employers help some of or bus drivers be able to maybe get off work a little bit earlier so they can drive a school bus.”

Dr. Dickerson explained that they have called in the district’s transportation administrative assistant, Rose Viramontes, who has a valid bus driver’s license, to pick up routes from time to time.

“But we do have concerns as we go through the winter months,” Dr. Dickerson said. “If we do go down some drivers, we are going to have to do some problem solving. It may mean that we have a bus or two that may have to go back and do pickups later on. But when we run into situations, we will communicate as early as we can with families, and we have here recently with a message to just have other plans in place just in case.”

The bus driver shortage is not unique to Milford. Districts across the state are struggling to run bus routes due to a lack of bus drivers. Although this shortage is not new as contractors have been reporting a lack of drivers for over a decade, the recent pandemic and a labor shortage overall have made the situation much more serious.

There are several factors that are feeding into the shortage of drivers. Current drivers are ageing, and younger people are not stepping up to take their place. Currently, the state uses a formula to pay contractors and districts which is meant to cover equipment, maintenance and driver pay. The districts cover 10 percent of the cost while the state covers 90 percent. For many years, bus contractors have been claiming that the contract does not cover actual costs and needs to be overhauled.

According to the Department of Education, bus drivers in Delaware earn between $13 and $19 per hour while bus drivers for the City of Wilmington earn between $19 and $22 per hour. DOE has requested additional funding for 2023 which would increase driver pay to $20 per hour.

Dr. Dickerson stated at the December 20 board meeting that the district had been able to run all bus routes, something that was a tribute to their contractors and drivers as well as Jon Lobiondo, Transportation Supervisor.

“We just appreciate all of the work they’ve done here to continue our routes, but we are concerned here with the winter months,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We are just making sure we keep ourselves staffed with bus drivers and aides appropriately on the bus.”