NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - It's almost time for students to head back to school across Hampton Roads, but when the first day of classes arrives, there may not be enough bus drivers behind the wheel.
In Newport News, the school system is down 75 bus drivers. There are more than a dozen future drivers in training right now, but there is still a need for more employees. With classes beginning August 29, the pressure is mounting to fill the lingering vacancies. In 2021, a lack of drivers meant major adjustments for students and staff. Some students spent up to 90 minutes on a school bus getting to class in the morning, because bus routes were lengthened.
"Also, we had drivers that would go and drop kids off at the school and do double backs," says Shay Coates, Executive Director of Transportation for Newport News Public Schools.
Contracted bus drivers start with a pay of $20.16 an hour in Newport News. Currently, the school system is also offering a $2,000 bonus to new school bus drivers. The school system handles training and certification for a commercial drivers license, too, paying new hires during the training period.
So, what kind of person makes a good school bus driver?
"First, we're looking for somebody with a good driving record," Coats says. "Second, somebody who wants to work with children. We also look for someone with some patience," he adds.
Newport News is not alone. Several other school districts across Hampton Roads are in need of school bus drivers.
According to Chesapeake Public Schools, there are 104 full-time driver positions still vacant there. Chesapeake is offering a $750 hiring bonus for new drivers. The Portsmouth Public School system has 41 open school bus driver positions. The district will hold an Application Assistance Day on Thursday, August 25, from 10 a.m. to Noon, at 2801 Turnpike Road, for anyone interested in applying for a job, including bus drivers.