The bus driver shortage in Lee County is persisting and impacting students across Southwest Florida.
Buses are still late. Buses are still rerouted. And parents are still on fire about it.
Lee Schools Transportation Director Roger Lloyd understands every parent’s frustration. He knows he has a lot to fix.
In an exclusive interview with WINK News, Lloyd said he does not think the school district is meeting the legal obligation of transporting children to schools.
“You know, and I would say that, if we had three buses late, I would tell you, that’s not good enough,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd admits his team is nowhere near where it needs to be.
Despite increased incentives and recruitment efforts, the district still faces a critical shortage of bus drivers and the pandemic is not helping. The district has hired 30 new bus drivers, but another 34 have resigned.
“Even if everybody shows up to work, I still have at least 34 routes that don’t have drivers,” Lloyd said.
Many bus drivers are not comfortable with optional masks for students. A bus driver died last week of COVID-19.
On top of that, there are drivers in COVID-19 quarantine and another number of drivers that call off sick.
Bus drivers are scared, Lloyd said, which makes staffing an issue.
District leaders are sending a memo to bus drivers to make sure no child is left behind, but it’s raising safety concerns.
The text message memo went out to drivers and tells them what to do if they come across students whose buses have not picked them up.
If a bus driver sees a stranded student, they must call dispatch. If dispatch doesn’t answer, put them on your bus if there is room. If there is no room, keep track of where they were and continue following up with dispatch.
“It’s not like we’re running around just picking up any kids off the street corner,” Lloyd said. “It really is an attempt to take a look and make sure that all kids are getting to where they need to be.”
Parents are scared that if a random bus picks up their children, they can no longer be tracked on the tracking app.
“Like I said, again, the parents are not wrong,” Lloyd said. “You know, we need to do a better job with communication. There’s no doubt.”
Lloyd said his bus drivers are hard workers and are often blame for circumstances that are out of their control.
Lloyd said he also has a child in the district who also rides a bus to school so he knows the weight of his team’s obligation. His child’s bus is late and rerouted too.
“But the bottom line is, there’s a Florida statute on point that provides for the things that the school board needs to be doing,” said Attorney Casey Gartland. “If they have a hard time staffing people, and they’re going to have to figure out alternative ways to get those drivers.”
On that note, both Lloyd and Gartland agree.
Where they disagree is whether the district is responsible for children’s safety prior to boarding the bus.
The school district says that falls on parents.
Gartland said the state statute is broader than that.
Lloyd’s team is looking to add more incentives to recruit new drivers.
For information on where to apply to be a Lee County school district bus driver, visit the site here.