FLORENCE COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — It’s easier to recruit a superintendent than a bus driver, according to one Pee Dee leader.
“You can probably find administrators faster than you can find a bus driver,” said Neal Vincent, the superintendent of Florence County School District 2.
It’s an issue that has been affecting bus routes nation and statewide. Horry County Schools is short 90 bus drivers, a decrease from early August, with 26 prospective employees in the hiring process.
Florence 1 Schools and Florence County School District Three have also experienced shortages. And in Massachusetts, the National Guard has stepped in to drive buses to help with the crisis.
But that situation has been different in Florence County School District 2. Out of 10 drivers, it has kept them all.
“We have been very fortunate,” Vincent said. “We have been able to maintain the ten drivers. It is rare that we don’t have ten drivers.”
The district has 12 routes, 11 buses and 10 drivers, with a supervisor able to take the wheel, if needed. Vincent said having schools on the same campus has helped, although they do have to put elementary and secondary students on the same bus at times. That hasn’t been an issue, he said, since the students are grouped in separate areas of the bus, and that a third of the district’s students are related to each other.
The bus drivers work part-time and most hold other jobs at the schools or are retired. Some have spent more than 30 years with the district and have driven multiple generations of students.
Vincent said the drivers know the community and have strong relationships in the area. They grow close with the students, coach and counsel them.
“That is the first person they see and that is the last person they see when they go home,” he said. “I don’t think we can ever emphasize enough the importance and how essential bus drivers are.”
Those strong connections, Vincent said, help keep the drivers on their buses. They aren’t the highest paid in the area, with salaries starting at $12.38, with the average pay at $13.70 an hour, but the district tries to give bonuses and make them feel appreciated.
Vincent said the school board recognized drivers last month and had a small meal in their honor.
“They are appreciated and valued,” Vincent said. “They are viewed as essential.”
With COVID-19, Vincent said it’s been difficult to recruit school support staff, including food service workers.
For now, Vincent said the district is trying to add as much support as possible. The district can’t afford bus monitors on all the vehicles, but it does use a video system. It’s also able to suspend students from buses for misbehaving.
Some teachers can fill in, if needed, but Vincent said that hasn’t happened this year.