Oklahoma School Districts Struggling To Hire Bus Drivers

Even with summer break still in full swing, school districts across Green Country are struggling to fill empty bus driver positions. It's a trend that's been nagging at school transportation departments for years. 

Monday, July 8th 2024, 5:21 pm

By: Matt Rahn


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Even with summer break still in full swing, school districts across Green Country are struggling to fill empty bus driver positions. It's a trend that's been nagging at school transportation departments for years. 

For hundreds of Union students, the school day begins with a bus ride. 

"That mission starts with us every day," Transportation Director Rob Harris said.

He takes pride in making sure kids make it to class, but he says it's been hard finding enough drivers to get the job done. 

"I think we're no different than anybody else ... we've just had a hard time getting people to come to work," Harris said.

That struggle mimics a larger trend across the U.S. A study from the Economic Policy Institute says there were about 192,000 drivers nationwide last September, down about 15% from 2019. 

"We also have a specialized job so you have to have a license for it, and that proves difficult for people to obtain," Harris said.

Harris says they have nine open positions right now, but if they can't fill those, they'll have to look to substitute bus drivers and even other staff to fill the need. 

When there are not enough bus drivers to get students where they need to go, sometimes the Union Transportation Department calls upon mechanics here in the maintenance department to help pick up the slack.

Ted Rea spends most of his time under the hood of these buses but has also been behind the wheel.

"If they don't have a driver to cover a route we get pulled off of what we're doing here in the shop sometimes hot and greasy and dirty and we go out and drive a bus on a route," says Rea.

He says part of the problem is an aging workforce. 

"We're constantly fighting driver shortage, half of our drivers are like me grey-haired and got a few miles on them," Rea said.

For new drivers with no experience, Union is offering $17.65 and 85 cents an hour with benefits, and a 5 percent retention stipend for existing drivers. Rea hopes the positive environment at Union also brings in new drivers. 

"This is a big family, it's a great place to work."

Tulsa Public Schools is also looking to fill 11 bus drivers positions, they have a hiring event this Wednesday at their transportation facility near Pine and Memorial.

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