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Arizona school districts hit with bus driver shortage

The Litchfield Elementary School District is experiencing a bus driver and bus aide shortage as a consequence of the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. — School districts in the Valley have been struggling to fill bus driver vacancies.

At Litchfield Elementary School District’s Support Services bus parking lot, many are sitting idle, without use.

Out of the 75 staff needed to run a smooth transportation operation, the district is missing 18 drivers and eight aides.

“We have been using all sorts of means to try and recruit,” said Nathan Whyte, the district’s Director of Transportation. “We’ve used social media, we’ve used word of mouth, we’ve used the newspapers, we are doing everything possible to draw in new members of staff, but it’s not working.”

Driver shortages are normal for the beginning of the school year. Before 2020, a School Bus Fleet Survey found that 91% of districts nationwide reported having issues with bus staffing, but the pandemic exacerbated the problem.

Since bus drivers tend to be retirees, Whyte said many opted not to risk their health and didn’t return to the job.

The problem is not unique to one district, Peoria Unified School District shared a message on Facebook Friday morning that said, “Some bus routes may experience a delay in pick-up today due to a shortage of drivers. Thanks for being patient at the bus stop!”

A spokesperson for the Peoria district told 12 News that delays happen often when a backup driver is not familiarized with bus routes. With pandemic restrictions, training last-minute for routes can be tricky.

Phoenix Elementary School District is currently staffed with 21 drivers but have four vacancies. Their bigger problem is understaffed school bus aides. They currently have five employed but need to fill 20 positions.

With the rise in COVID-19 cases, districts said they fear current staff will eventually get burned out because of the added bus runs and work load.

Whyte is now, more than ever, splitting his job duties to also drive school buses and transport students.

“It’s a passion of mine, I love it and I will be doing it until I retire,” he said.

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