IN-DEPTH: How shortage of school bus drivers is impacting Central Texas

Posted at 6:56 AM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 07:56:13-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — Bill Paquette would start his morning around 4:30 A.M.

"You’ll drive for three or four hours, and you come back to the bus barn and you don’t come back until the afternoon run," said Paquette.

He drove for a year for Killeen ISD but says he quit for several reasons.

"The biggest thing is mutual respect," said Paquette.

The former bus driver says elementary and high school students were easy to deal with. He had several disciplinary issues with junior high students. Paquette says he also didn't feel that the district had his back.

"All employees, including transportation, are valued members of our district," said Taina Maya Chief Communications & Marketing Officer for Killeen ISD.

There is a school bus driver shortage all across the country. Ads online looking for school bus drivers with some districts even offering sign-on bonuses.

"All of our educators impact students in different ways. You don’t know what one smile from your bus driver will do," TSTA President Ovidia Molina said.

In a recent survey, 72% of school districts blame the shortage on COVID-19.

"It's been a tuff year," said Joshua Wucher Executive Director for Communications at Waco ISD.

Waco ISD is running 38 bus routes which is down 5 routes from last year. Joshua Wucher says that might not seem like a lot but that leaves around 300 students without a driver.

According to Zippia, the average age of an employed bus driver is 56 years old.

"Last year we did lose a bus aide and it's a terrible thing to lose someone, especially to this terrible virus," said Wucher.

The school district contracts out its bus drivers with Goldstar Transit.

"They handle everything from hiring to training," said Wucher.

Starting pay is now $16 an hour, something they hope will help attract more drivers.

"These drivers have an important job, they take this very seriously, they are well trained," said Bill Paquette.

The former driver for Killeen ISD says the training was good and he didn't mind the pay. But hopes people grow to understand how important these drivers are.