Colorado schools run over by bus driver shortage

Posted at 5:45 PM, Sep 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-30 19:45:51-04

There are fewer bus drivers signing up to take your children to school. Statistics across the state of Colorado show a big school bus driver shortage and its fueled by an improving economy.

“It’s across the city, it’s the whole metro area, every district from Boulder, JeffCo, Douglas, we’re all struggling trying to get staff,” said Greg Jackson, Executive Director of Transportation for Jefferson County Schools.  “If the economy is actually slow or it’s declining, we will sit very, very heavy with staffing and have that success.”

Several districts across the state confirm their staffing levels are high when the economy is down, and they lose those drivers when the economy improves. 

Jackson says their district recently lost several good drivers to the oil and gas industry. He says private dollars are higher than public dollars.

“We lost quite a few, three or four people last year to the oil fields, where they’re paying a gentleman $22 an hour to drive a water truck and, again, we can’t compete with that," said Jackson.

7NEWS is finding that retirees make up the highest percentage of school bus drivers. It’s targeting the other demographics that the districts say will end their staffing shortage.

Now, school districts are taking a look in the mirror to solve these problems. 

"Other districts that have a lot of funding that [comes] from, again, taxpayer money, from bonds, from mil levy’s, they’re receiving that and right here in JeffCo a lot of times that’s one of our biggest struggles is do we do those or don’t we do those,” said Jackson.

Creativity with the funds available are proving to be key.  Both Jefferson County and Douglas County school districts are using their own buses as a source for advertising. Both have bumper stickers on several buses advertising for jobs.

The Boulder Valley School District pays $16.90 an hour for starting drivers. Douglas County Schools pays $15.90 an hour for starting drivers, while JeffCo Public Schools pays $15.05 an hour.

Douglas County recently gave its bus drivers an across the board pay raise of 5 percent and hope it’s enough to keep drivers around.

“We do have drivers who are leaving to go back to jobs that they’ve done in the past and, you know, it’s great that the economy is better, but the driver shortage is part of that,” said Donna Grattino, Director of Transportation for Douglas County Schools.

Grattino says stricter sleep apnea testing for all commercial drivers around the country is also eating into their pool of potential candidates.

Denver Public Schools is paying their drivers $16.10 to start. 

Cherry Creek School District is paying their drivers $15.42 and tells 7NEWS they can’t afford a pay increase right now. 

“We are currently down by about 60 drivers out of what should be about 290. We have a pool of about 50 standby drivers, so transportation administrative staff is pitching in when needed,” said Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for Cherry Creek School District.  “The Cherry Creek School District is underfunded by nearly $52 million this year alone due to the negative factor, so increasing salaries isn’t really an option for us now.”

All of the districts 7NEWS spoke with are confident they’ll find the drivers they need.  Each are between 20 percent and 30 percent short on staffing levels.