The first face students typically see while using public transportation to attend school is a bus driver. However, keeping a full staff of drivers is a perennial challenge for school districts.
“Mississippi is experiencing a statewide shortage of school bus drivers,” said Jean Cook, director of communication for the Mississippi Department of Education. “The pandemic has contributed to this shortage, which is occurring nationwide.”
For schools serving Monroe County students, driver shortages are being met by other staff members who have the certifications to drive a bus.
According to Monroe County School District Assistant Superintendent Kevin Threadgill, the district needs five more regular drivers who can drive both morning and afternoon routes.
“We have 39 routes and are managing to cover routes with other staff where we lack regular drivers,” he said.
The Amory School District employs 22 regular drivers, along with two substitute drivers who juggle other duties, according to district director of transportation David Millender.
“We could use three more drivers,” he said.
Aberdeen School District Chief of Operations Willie Brandon oversees 18 school bus routes. Additionally, he and bus shop foreman Theo Ward fill in as substitutes as needed.
“We’re one driver short and have no substitute drivers,” he said.
Students of the Nettleton School District are served by 16 bus routes.
Assistant superintendent Mark Hitt said two substitutes are currently on duty to fill in as needed.
“The last couple of years we’ve been having to beat the bushes to be fully staffed as the new school year started. We need one full-time driver now,” he said.
Hitt said his older drivers are on staff to receive insurance benefits until they quality for full-time retirement benefits through Social Security.
“When they get to that point, they’ll hang their keys up,” he said.