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Chester County Press

Kennett Schools CFO decries the shortage of bus drivers

09/27/2022 02:04AM ● By Steven Hoffman

Kennett Consolidated School District Chief Financial Officer Mark Tracy shared his frustrations about the bus driver shortage during the Sept. 12 school board meeting.

After the business agenda had concluded, Board President Vicki Gehrt called upon Tracy to discuss what was going on with transportation. Tracy said there are just not enough bus drivers for all the runs that the school district needs.

Explaining the situation several days later in greater detail, he said the district has 70 runs each day, but only 65 drivers.

“There’s no typical day. Depending on who calls out, it is problem-solving every day,” he said.

Tracy cited three situations that contribute to the problem:

·.  The unemployment rate in Chester County is low so there are fewer individuals applying for the job. And even for those who apply, it takes 60 to 90 days to receive the necessary training and credentials.

·.  The bus driver job is two part-time shifts – morning and afternoon – of two hours each that leaves drivers with a gap of no income production in between.

·.  In recent months, the availability of full-time work for holders of commercial drivers’ licenses has expanded so drivers take jobs elsewhere.

Additionally, Tracy added, a number of long-term drivers have retired, and the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on availability of individuals for work, especially last year.

“It’s easy to identify but not to rectify. At least it’s better than last year,” Tracy said.

One response, he said, was to raise the rate of pay by $1 an hour for drivers through the bus company the district contracts with, Krapf School Bus of West Chester. That did not have a significant increase in drivers, he said.

Other suggestions he said, are well intended but limited in their results. Relatively simple sounding solutions have complex aspects.

One solution is to double up the runs – in other words, put one bus on the routes of two.

Tracy said that student safety is the top priority. They cannot permit the dangers that overcrowding would engender. Timing is another problem here. Some of the bus stops would inevitably be arrived at late. And while the school responds to calls from parents inquiring about the times in the morning, it is not in the position to inform all the people who will be affected by having to wait a little longer for the pickup caused by an unexpected driver call out.

Another suggestion is to work out arrangements with nearby schools.

Tracy said he is in touch with the transportation administrators of all the nearby schools. They all have the same problem and they are sympathetic with each other.

The various schools, however, have different arrangements and contracts for busing students. Some, like Unionville, provide their own buses, while others have companies other than Kennett’s contract with Krapf.

Additionally, with a service area of 33 square miles, Kennett alone has the responsibility to deliver students to three elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, one Kennett kindergarten center, private schools and kindergartens within 10 miles, the Technical College High School, Avon Grove Charter School and various other special needs schools. They start and let out at different hours. Other school districts are similarly strained.

One board member asked if it would be possible to have individual student drivers or parents commit to their own transportation. Tracy said even if some early high school pickups were changed, it would not affect the fact that elementary school starting times (which are the second runs) would remain in place and be part of the second round.

On a positive note, Tracy said even though every morning presents a new challenge to the driver shortage puzzle, the staff of Transportation Director Tom Jenkins and assistant Susan Griffith have stepped up to handle the problems.

“They come on an hour early to determine what has caused the problems and how to handle them,” Tracy said. He added that the response of the veteran bus drivers has also been heartening.

Will the situation get better?

Tracy said eventually it will, but solutions are not going to come soon.