Arizona school districts can’t find enough bus drivers

School district officials have said they have difficulty hiring bus drivers, in part because of low pay. (Photo by Mariana Dale/KJZZ)

PHOENIX – Bus driver shortages in Arizona districts are not a new problem, but in recent years the situation has become more dire.

On any given school day, Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in Arizona, is short about 80 bus drivers, according to Scott Thompson, assistant superintendent.

And Mesa isn’t alone. Glendale, Payson and Prescott school districts have confirmed shortages as well.

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Thompson said one of the biggest struggles when it comes to recruiting drivers is the low pay. Right now, Mesa Public Schools can only afford to pay $13 an hour. Arizona’s minimum wage will be $12 an hour next January.

“It’s a job that has a lot of requirements to it,” Thompson said. “And when you can walk down the street and get a job at Circle K for $12 an hour, I look at that, and I might say, ‘I don’t want to go through all that training. I can go get a job for maybe a little less, but it’s an easier job.'”

Thompson said routes for students in special education tend to be smaller, with just one or two students on each bus, making it a bigger challenge to transport everyone with fewer drivers.

Chuck Essigs, with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said it has been more difficult in recent years to find drivers because of the strong economy.

“It’s an issue that’s around school district transportation programs, just about every year, but in a situation like we have now, with a really good economy and a lot of jobs competing for school bus drivers, it just makes it that much bigger of a challenge for school districts,” he said.

Essigs said that some districts are adding incentives, such as guaranteeing more hours by offering additional jobs, or administrative work for drivers to do between driving shifts.

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