School bus driver shortage leads to overcrowding, major delays for Palm Beach County students

School District of Palm Beach County hosting weekly job fair to hire drivers
A Palm Beach County school bus picks up students in West Palm Beach on Aug. 25, 2021.jpg
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 11:39:24-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County is experiencing a massive bus driver shortage.

Maybe you've had to take your kids to school more often this year, or they've come home a lot later than usual.

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"Lack of buses, drivers showing up late, buses are overloaded," said Forest Hill Community High School senior Damien Allen.

Allen just got new shoes for his long walks home. He said sometimes the hour-plus walk from Forest Hill Community High School in West Palm Beach to his house in Palm Springs is faster than waiting for the bus to come back for him.

"After school, we have a whole stadium in the gym just fully loaded with students," Allen said. "And you get home at like six or seven, depending on how late."

Allen shared a video with WPTV to show how many students are packed on his bus after school with no opportunity for social distancing.

"Very packed, noisy," Allen said. "Some people are sitting on top of each other's laps or just hanging on, standing usually. And then they get yelled at and we have to stop and then it delays time to get home."

A nationwide bus driver shortage is the culprit.

"If the bus is crowded, what happens is the driver has to turn back and make two trips and go back and double back to pick up additional kids," said Superintendent Michael Burke.

Burke knows it's a problem and said the School District of Palm Beach County started the 2021/22 academic year on Aug. 10 already about 100 drivers short.

"Like many industries across the country, it’s hard to fill those jobs," Burke said. "Then when we started school with the delta variant, we’ve had to send drivers home. So I'm not surprised to hear of some crowding."

A spokeswoman said the school district is 146 bus drivers short of its goal of having 646 drivers.

50,000 Palm Beach County students are registered to ride on school buses, and to meet that demand, any school district employees that have commercial driver's licenses are filling in.

The school district is holding weekly job fairs, trying to up its staff, but it's not happening fast enough.

"I don’t know if there’s any solution to the shortage of bus drivers," said Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri. "The district is doing everything we can to entice people to come here and drive our buses. But hopefully that will work out and we’ll have the drivers we need to run the system."

Allen said he hopes that happens soon.

"More buses so everyone can get separated and at least have some space. Because what's happening right now, it's not really a good thing," Allen said.

The School District of Palm Beach County is hosting a weekly transportation job fair every Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the district's Central Transportation Center, located at 3376 Summit Boulevard in West Palm Beach.

On Sept. 2, there will also be a job fair in Belle Glade.

A spokesperson said the school district will pay to train bus drivers and will also offer them full benefits and a retirement program.

For more information about the qualifications and to apply, click here.