WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — According to the Palm Beach County School District, the transportation services department still has over 100 bus driver openings.
According to transportation COO, Joe Sanches, this year, the district hired 76 new drivers, but they also lost some as well.
“We still have over 100? About 111 openings right now. But that number fluctuates day to day," said Sanches.
Sanches says the district is constantly hiring drivers, but in the meantime, other employees are stepping up to help.
“There are bus drivers still running multiple routes, we still have mechanics, running routes from time to time, and other dispatchers running routes. So that's how we're able to cover and make sure we get our kids to school.”
The shortage is causing the district to turn to private transportation to help lighten the load.
“To help us make up for the lack of some drivers, we've turned to some private transportation here and there," said Sanches.
Originally, the transportation services department asked the school board for an extra $7 million to help cover part of this year's and next year’s transportation needs, but due to rising costs and the extra use of private transportation, the department needed an extra $13 million.
"It's mostly because of the driver shortage. Yeah, we have plenty of buses, we just need more people to drive...we were transporting somewhere around 300-to-400 students in private transportation before. Now we're up to close to 1,000 students," said Sanches.
EverDriven is one of the private transportation companies the district uses. CEO Mitch Bowling says the increased use of private transportation services isn’t just a Palm Beach County issue.
“We have for a couple of reasons. Some of it is because of school bus drivers and the shortage there. But it's also because the population of the type of students we transport happens to grow at a faster rate than general education students as well," said Bowling.
According to the district, they primarily use private transportation for the district's medically fragile student population and include the cost of nurses that travel with these students. Services include the transport of McKinney-Vento, Foster Care, and ESE students when a school bus route is unavailable.
The district also offers a parent reimbursement program, so if a parent wants to drive their child to school, the district will reimburse them for their travel.
The Palm Beach County School District offers incentives for new drivers.
Before the school year started, the district raised driver pay to $20 an hour, added a $1,000 signing bonus, upped the benefits package, and started paying drivers $15 an hour while they are getting their CDL training.
The district holds a job fair to hire district bus drivers every Thursday from 9:30 a.m. To 2 p.m. at the transportation facility off 3300 Summit Boulevard.