HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Ahead of the 2022-23 school year, Horry County Schools officials said they are still short on school bus drivers.
“They really are in dire need of drivers,” said Mark Hennig, a bus driver.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, bus driver staffing has not been the same.
“The overall issue with driver shortage goes back aways,” said Ben Prince, executive director of transportation with Horry County Schools. “It’s a slow process of filling these vacancies.”
Fewer drivers mean bigger impacts on routes.
“There are cuts and sometimes we have to look at our overall efficiency and figure out where routes need to be merged,” Prince said. “Anytime there’s a shortage, you have to make accommodations.”
Merged and cut routes can mean that students will be waiting for the bus for longer or students will be riding on the bus for longer. Prince said the district works to make these changes seamless.
“We work to be as efficient as we possibly can given the overall numbers that we’re down,” Prince said. “We do everything we can to do the work on our end so that it’s not felt on the student and families.”
As the district feels the impact of the shortage, they are not standing idly by.
“We’ve been very aggressive in our recruiting effort,” Prince said. “We go out in different communities and try to make it convenient for people.”
They have put on five job fairs across the county this year, and Prince said the district offers strong incentives for drivers.
“We continue to have our driver retention bonus for this year…so that’s up to $1,500 per semester,” Prince said. “It has to do specifically with attendance rates and being here a certain percentage of time, they can earn up to $1,500 additional each semester. We did that last year was very well received.”
With their aggressive recruiting efforts and incentives, the district has seen progress.
“We are actually seeing improvement,” Prince said. “We have less overall vacancies than we did a year ago.”
Prince said one of the biggest things the district relies on during the recruitment process is its current drivers.
“We have our drivers that are telling our story,” Prince said. “We have drivers attend with us and really try to sell the story of what it’s like to be a bus driver. I think it’s been well received, and we’re seeing increased interest over time.”
He said a unique aspect of the job is getting to spend time with the children.
“It’s a really neat experience to be able to work with children,” Prince said. “They really have an opportunity to build strong relationships with them.”
Bus drivers have no problem selling that story.
“This is the job. I won’t do anything else,” bus driver, Yolanda Green said. “I’ve been driving for 21 years. I had opportunity to apply for a job inside school, but no, I love my job.”
Bus drivers agree that getting to watch the children grow up is a rewarding experience.
“You see some of the kids that have been on your bus, and it’s like, oh my God, you hardly recognize ’em, they’ve grown so much,” Hennig said.
They said they are pleased with their decision to become bus drivers.
“You would absolutely love this job,” Green said.
Employees at Horry County Schools’ transportation department said they know the first couple days of school can be stressful and slower than usual. They ask families to be patient.
“We’re taking information in and we’re monitoring and adjusting,” Prince said. “So, the big things are just patience and flexibility.”
Drivers promise that students will get to school safely and as efficiently as possible.
“After the first couple days, then the bus drivers are more in a routine and the kids are more into a routine,” Hennig said. “Just be patient, we’re gonna get there. We’re not perfect either, but we’re trying our best.”
Drivers also want parents to know that their student is safe with them.
“We try to make it enjoyable for [the students], so it’s a good experience and they want to come back,” Hennig said.
“Don’t be afraid to get on the bus,” Green said. “Especially if you get on my bus, Ms. Green gonna take care of you. I’m gonna love you if you ride my bus.”