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Education

A shortage of school bus drivers prompts changes to several school districts across Tampa Bay

A school bus
Hillsborough County Schools
/
A shortage of bus drivers is prompting the Sarasota County School District to change the start and end times at several schools.

Sarasota is at least the third area school district to address bus driving shortages.

Several Tampa Bay area school districts have been trying to work around what’s becoming a perennial problem with transportation.

Pasco County Schools recently announced that they will suspend bus service for families living within a two-mile radius of their schools. Pasco had attempted to fix the shortage in January by changing start times for several schools.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Schools has raised school bus drivers' hourly rate to just over $16 in an effort to recruit more of them.

Sarasota County Schools Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas, said the lack of school bus drivers is “a perfect storm” in transportation services.

"We have not only had COVID, but just literally across the United States, there's just a shortage of bus drivers,” he said. “Certainly, in this last year that's kind of hit us. As we can't bring drivers on, what do we do? We try to break routes up, consolidate routes, do everything we can to run as efficiently as possible with the drivers we do have."

Dumas says with the "on average" 15-minute shift in school schedules starting this fall, fewer bus drivers will be needed to complete district routes.

The school board recently approved the schedule changes amid an ongoing shortage of bus drivers.

Barry Dubin, is the executive director of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association. The union representing teachers and school employees is pushing for an increase in pay for bus drivers.

But even if salaries rise above the current hourly rate of almost $18, the district will still face a challenge filling positions.

"You know, $20 an hour is hard to pay rent when the rents are now in the thousands,” said Dubin. “It's hard to get housing. I don't think you can even get a two bedroom, less than $2,000, much anymore around here. So, it’s very difficult to live on that salary, $20 an hour."

The new bell schedules in Sarasota County are changing on average about 15 minutes, with bus routes being consolidated to make up for staffing issues.