The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Updated bus shortage plan

Schools nationwide are experiencing bus driver shortages. LM has created a plan to address this issue.

“Districts across the country are being impacted by the shortage of school bus drivers. Our district is no exception,” stated Superintendent Steven Yanni in an email to parents and guardians in early April. In this email, Yanni outlined LMSD’s new procedures for each grade level within the district, as LMSD attempts to adapt to a nationwide shortage of bus drivers. This shortage was documented in early December of last year, when the NEA (National Education Association) reported that the “bus driver shortage remains severe across the country.” According to a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute and cited by the NEA, “school bus driver employment continues to be far below pre-pandemic levels. There were approximately 192,400 bus drivers working in K–12 schools in September 2023, down 15.1 percent from September 2019.” The shortage of bus drivers has undoubtedly impacted many students across the country, especially those who rely on school buses as their main mode of transportation between home and school. As this issue continues to impact schools across the nation, it prompts us to question: when and how will the shortage of bus drivers impact LMSD?

Within LMSD, students of all grade levels may be impacted if they live along certain routes that LMSD is unable to provide with bus transportation. Elementary school students on the impacted routes will experience a thirty minute delay in bus arrival times, and their late arrival will be excused by school staff. Middle school students will experience a one hour delay in bus arrival times and their late arrival will also be excused, mirroring the elementary school procedures. However, any impacted high school students will not be provided with any bus service. Students will have to stay home for an asynchronous virtual instruction day. High school staff will be notified regarding students without district provided transportation to school. Additionally, parents with younger children will also have the option to send their children to the Right At School early care, with the cost covered by LMSD. Yanni concluded the email by urging anyone interested in becoming an LMSD bus driver to fill out the application that was linked.

When asked about the possible reasons behind the nationwide bus driver shortage, Yanni explained, “The average age of drivers across the country continues to increase. As drivers retire, there aren’t enough people coming into the profession.” The Supervisor of LMSD Transportation Uldis Vilcins also pointed to economic factors as a significant contributor. He stated, “Drivers with their commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) can easily work for commercial trucking companies, earn higher pay, and drive more hours than school bus drivers.” Additionally, Vilcins highlighted the specific LMSD level factors worsening this shortage. He noted, “our drivers work a split shift and are ‘off the clock’ during the midday. They start their day around 6:30 a.m. and finish their morning runs around 9:30 a.m. Then, they clock out and come back to work around 1:30 and work until approximately 5:30 p.m. While some of our drivers like having the midday hours free to run errands, go to the gym, take care of appointments, etc, it’s not a schedule that works for everyone.” This fluctuating schedule has amplified the shortage as further drives many to stray away from being an LMSD bus driver.

During this critical time, it is important for LMSD to provide increased incentives to build driver retention. Vilcins stated that, “A year and a half ago, the Board of School Directors approved pay increases for drivers and bus aides. This unprecedented measure in the middle of an existing contract period helped us with driver retention. The District also implemented a $4000 sign-on bonus for new employees, in addition to providing excellent benefits to drivers and aides. “ In order to encourage more drivers to work for LMSD, Vilcin shares, “We are continuing to aggressively advertise our job openings using social media, job search sites, job fairs and print publications. Members of our Transportation Department team attend community events and our drivers have business cards with our employment information that they’re encouraged to hand out when they’re with friends and family.” In addition, LM has also put magnetic bumper stickers on their buses and signs at many LMSD buildings in order to advertise bus driver jobs.

This new bus driver shortage plan, that may require students to attend virtually if LMSD is unable to provide transportation, is one of many strategies LMSD has explored to address their transportation struggles. Notably, LMSD explored expanding their walk zone to 1.5 miles, broadening the area of student’s who would not be provided transportation. After extreme community pushback, LMSD has announced they are walking back the proposed plan, saying “we strive to be responsive to the concerns expressed by our community; therefore, we have decided to retain a one mile walk zone for our high school students for next year,” the district announced in a statement published on lmsd.org. The statement went on to explain that “the decision to retain the one-mile walk zone requires compromises elsewhere in the system. For example, some middle school buses will need to run earlier than planned and some high school buses will run later.” One of these compromises may be an increased reliance on the bus shortage plan, as LMSD attempts to adapt to elevated demand on district transportation services.

While LMSD is fortunate enough to not be facing severe issues with a bus driver shortage, the future remains uncertain. It is possible that the district’s newly announced bus driver shortage plan may need to be implemented in the near future which will impact students district-wide. Yanni shares, “I hope [to not implement the plan], however, it really depends on the number of drivers we have out on any given day. Our drivers are an amazing group of employees, and they are doing a great job of transporting our students.” Right now, LMSD students and parents may need to start considering new methods to address the bus driver shortage within their own families in addition to the measures the school may implement.

 

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