NJ schools still in ‘dire’ need of bus drivers
It's been more than two years since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools in the Garden State, and districts and school bus contractors are still making every effort to get enough people behind the wheel, as New Jersey approaches the 2022-23 academic year.
"The driver shortage is still dire," said Patricia Cowley, administrator of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association. "Our association contractor members are pulling out all the stops to find drivers to fill gaps."
Many bus drivers decided the COVID shutdown was a good time to retire, the association said. Now, getting new, qualified drivers into the industry continues to be a struggle, as is the case with most jobs that require a commercial drivers' license.
"A lot of schools are competing for the same seemingly limited pool of candidates," Sal Randazzo, coordinator of communications for the Deptford Township School District, told New Jersey 101.5.
Last year, the district had to adjust school start and end times to make do with their roster of drivers. In addition, the district increased starting pay for the position, and offered a bonus to people who stayed on the job.
"Because we were so behind ... we just barely limped through the year with those new people we were able to pick up," Randazzo said.
This year, $1,500 will go out to any driver who completes 180 full work days. Those who complete 175 full days will get a $750 bonus.
In addition, ahead of this year, the district teamed up with a local bus service to pick up some routes. The district's school schedules are going back to normal.
"We're definitely looking to fill some voids," said Eric Raphael, president of Irvin Raphael Inc., a school bus contractor based out of East Brunswick.
Beyond a CDL license, applicants must secure certain endorsements in order to carry students to and from school. The process to secure all of the necessary requirements could take a handful of weeks; the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission says there are no noticeable delays on their end.
"It's never too late to start the process," Raphael said. "We are hiring throughout the whole year."
Drivers must be at least 21 years old.
In a move to incentivize individuals who may be on the fence about the career, federal officials have been waiving the requirement that drivers be "under the hood" experts. The waiver has been extended for a second time and is set to expire on Sept. 30, NJMVC said.