BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — Monday morning will be here before we know it and school during the pandemic is going to look very different.
One of the major concerns is a nationwide shortage of bus drivers.
Baltimore County is the third largest school system in Maryland. They drive roughly 85,000 students to and from school every day.
Dr. Jess Grim, the Director of Transportation for Baltimore County, said fully staffed they have around 800 drivers—right now they are about 10% short of that.
“We do what are called double runs or sending buses back for a second run at a school that we know," Grim said. "And the impact that that has is that it can contribute to late buses either in the morning or getting our students home in the afternoon."
Bus drivers are the first people who our precious cargo comes in contact with on any given school day.
They are on especially short supply this year.
Many of them found new jobs or retired early.
We talked to several drivers and any one of them will tell you they do this because they love working around children.
One of those was a Baltimore County Driver of more than 20 years who wanted us to conceal her identity.
“I did love the job, but the job has gotten, but the job has gotten a lot harder," she said.
That sentiment echoed from the dozens of drivers who talked to me off camera.
They said double and triple runs are very stressful—and the salary and the pandemic make it difficult to want to continue.
“A lot of our buses are not air conditioned," the driver said. "When you have that mask on especially if you drive with glasses they get fogged up and it’s hard to see. It is extremely hot you gotta add 10 degrees to that bus. If we’re doubling and tripling, you’re talking putting 50-60 kids on a bus.”
The starting salary for a driver in Baltimore County is $16.69, which is right around the national average.
Baltimore County is one of the only school systems in the state that offers benefits and full-time positions to all employees.
It’s a difficult pricey and long process to get your CDL and an endorsement to transport students.
Baltimore County isn’t offering any incentives or signing bonuses currently.
Grim said it’s tough to compete with delivery services and other transportation jobs.
“In many ways, folks can go and get another job with their CDL, and they can make more money that a school bus driver makes. And that's a nationwide problem that we're seeing not just here locally in Baltimore County.”
All drivers will be equipped with masks to give to students when they come on and off the bus— but social distancing will be difficult.
“They may look like some of those bus capacities that we had prior to the pandemic," said Grim. "With that in mind, we do have our cleaning and disinfecting protocols, which we have not discontinued one bit during the pandemic, since any other restrictions have eased.”
Several drivers are nervous about what the school year will look if drivers start getting sick— and the shortage becomes worse.
Grim is asking parents to be patient especially at the start of the school year.
And for drivers and potential staff to realize the benefits of working around children and being an integral part of their growth.
“Our goal is to get all students safely and effectively and efficiently to school on time, but we do take those first couple of weeks to make sure we iron out any kinks in our system," said Grim.
The need for drivers is dire all over the state and country.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a driver here is a link to apply.