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Elk Grove Unified reports bus driver shortage, worst in five years

The district has reported the lowest number of driving staff in half a decade, which could impact delays and availability amid new schedule changes.

ELK GROVE, Calif. — Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD) has revealed it is dealing with a shortage of bus drivers as the start of the 2022-23 school year approaches.

Currently, there are 130 bus drivers available in the district, about 17 less than the year prior, according to EGUSD spokesperson Xanthi Soriano.

“Definitely for the past five years, we've been as low as 144 drivers,” Soriano said. “This year is probably the lowest of that five years,” Soriano said.

Incoming drivers close to getting certified, about four according to Soriano, will likely be added on later this school year.

“There's a few that are also now doing their behind-the-wheel training, and then we have a class that's going to be starting," Soriano said. “There will be about 20 people in there and that'll be in August, so hopefully they'll bring us up to about 150.”

Soriano said the ideal number of bus drivers for a district the size of Elk Grove would be 165, about 35 less than what is currently available.

Despite the anticipation of incoming drivers, all Elk Grove district schools will officially be in session for the new year by August 11, with a number of factors that may challenge the lack of staffing.

“The difficult thing that we have to deal with there are delays – delays in the morning or delays in the afternoon,” Soriano said. “What makes it complex is our geographical footprint is pretty large, about 320 square miles and that's combined between urban area and rural area.”

Additionally, Soriano said the district is anticipating the impacts of the new changes to school schedules this year.

“Transportation played a big role in looking at how we would roll out the time change,” Soriano said.

A newly implemented law requires all middle and high school students to start no later than 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., creating convenience and schedule adjustment issues in schools across the state.

Soriano said the bus driver shortage is a nationwide issue that has been prevalent at all districts around the country for at least the last decade. 

A recent report by the Transit Center noted a number of reasons for the shortage such as compensation, safety and the role the pandemic had in worsening the existing crisis.

EGUSD has made efforts to address and revise potential deterrents to the career field, including pay.

“We try to be as competitive as we can when it comes to salary, and that's something that we worked on this past year,” Soriano said.

The district recently approved an increase in bus driver salary to $22.49 - $30.55 per hour for contracted drivers, $21 per hour for substitute drivers and $15 for trainees in effort to boost staffing.

“We have some of the highest paid bus drivers or salaries available in the region, but that's only one element,” Soriano said. “The other is just access to people who are willing to go through the actual training, getting behind the wheel and getting the certification.”

Soriano said she is hoping the efforts the district is making will help recruit people in the area to begin the challenging but rewarding career.

“It's not an easy job,” she said. “But it's a great job that, for those that I've talked to, they love it and they definitely recommend other people to become drivers.”

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