Kern County school districts struggle to find bus drivers

School bus (file)
Posted at 4:03 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 14:43:58-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Getting students to and from school is essential to many parents who may not be able to bring their children to school themselves. That’s why bus drivers are important in providing transportation and the Kern High and McFarland unified school districts are looking for more qualified people to drive buses.

It's a service that schools provide that is necessary to many students being able to get their education for the day: bus routes. But this year it has been a challenge. This includes the Kern High School District where Zach McNinch, the director of business administration, says they have several openings.

“Statewide, every district is experiencing a bus driver shortage. We are always in the process of onboarding new drivers. Anyone that is interested can receive pay training and a total of $2,500 in incentives.”

For the McFarland Unified School District, Deputy Superintendent Ambelina Garcia-Duran says “trying to fill those positions has been very difficult.”

That difficulty has led them to ask their current employees to step in if they can.

“What we do is we’ve encouraged our employees to go out and get their license. If they take the class and they pass, we do reimburse them their expenses,” said Ambelina Garcia-Duran.

This year they were able to add two additional employees so far to drive the buses in addition to what they do for the district.

While McFarland Unified has been able to maintain its routes in addition to having others for its special education students, financial support remains a problem.

“We’re having and maintain a fleet of buses is very very costly, and we have seen a significant rise of fuel cost over the last two years and those are real cost,” explains Samuel Resendez, superintendent for the McFarland Unified School District.

And for the Kern High School District in addition to opening a new high school changing the start time of schools statewide affected their routes.

“Senate Bill 328 which mandates high schools is to begin classes no earlier than 8:30 am," explains McNinch. "And so what that means is our bus drivers and their morning routes serve three sites. They go to ROTC-tech, and then typically two different comprehensive schools.”

McNinch says he knows there are currently some delays but it's important to be patient as the school year progresses and that parents can also do their part to help.

“It will get more efficient as drivers and students become more familiar with the routine. I would say the one thing that you can do to help with your students is to make sure they know what route they need to be on.”

McNinch adds the best way to become familiar with the routes is by going to the Kern High School District bus routes website.

If you are interested in becoming a bus driver you have to be at least 18 years old and have a commercial class A or B driver’s license.