RCSD’s main bus provider reports uptick in prospective new drivers amid shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As the hours ticked down to the start of school, the Rochester School District’s primary school bus provider reported it has seen intense interest from prospective new drivers, even as it struggled with a critical shortage of them.

"We take this extremely, extremely serious. And we do have some obstacles. But we’re used to it," declared Barbara Groszewski with the school district’s bus contractor, First Student.

On Wednesday night, the night before the start of school, she told a gathering of parents the company is recruiting hard to get back up to enough drivers. Over the course of the pandemic, she says the company has lost more than a hundred of them, many of them older and nervous about COVID and buses full of children, but that the company has taken in more than a hundred new applicants in the past week and some could be on the road in three weeks.

"We have offered sign-on bonuses,” she said. “We have raised the starting rate from $17 to $20 to start. You are a senior driver after two years and one day.”

"We’ve been losing driver after driver after driver after driver,” exclaimed Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small as she revealed that three more drivers had quit, making 12 lost on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.

Parents say they’re scrambling to find rides, carpool, or take time to drive their kids in while the district lines up bus service by Monday when school was scheduled to start on Thursday.

"The hardest part was dealing with my employer,” exclaimed parent Jamelia Edwards, “having to tell them that I may have to leave early or may have to come in late. There is nothing to cushion me there."

"I am going to work two hours late for the next few weeks until we get busing,” echoed Tatiana Welch who still had no transportation for her two children.

With its plan now to use transit buses to transport some students, the school district plans to have class open for students who can get there in person on Thursday, virtual for those who can’t, and with transportation provided for all students by Monday.

Edwards said she’s determined to make it a good start when her daughter, Zendaya, starts kindergarten.

“I’ve done my part to shield her from knowing what’s going on,” she said. “Our kids don’t need that pressure. They need to go with the idea of learning and living.”

First Student says it’s taking more applications and it’s urging anyone interested to apply. Click here to apply.