MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — Alabama’s school bus driver shortage continues — and the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) is working with local schools to try and help.
The federal government changed the requirement for entry-level school bus drivers back in February. Doing so made an already short-handed system operate in a strained capacity.
Madison City Schools (MCS) has 12,000 students. They say they transport more than 5,000 students every day. Between taking children to school and extracurricular activities, the school system says the shortage of qualified drivers puts a severe strain on schools, bus drivers, and students.
“We don’t want to have students standing at a bus stop when it’s raining and cold for extended amounts of time,” said Eric Terrell, assistant superintendent for MCS. “Then we don’t want students taking forever to get home after school.”
ACCS is partnering with school districts for an accelerated curriculum that helps potential drivers get their Class D CDL license with endorsement. It also gets them behind the wheel and theory training.
Houston Blackwood, workforce director for ACCS, says Huntsville City Schools (HCS) has a contract for their transportation, but MCS, along with Hartselle City Schools, don’t run their own.
Blackwood says it’s a huge burden for them everyday to make sure the buses are rolling.
One teacher who started driving the school bus two months ago says the experience has been enlightening.
“It’s helped me build relationships with some of them,” said Hiram Holt, a bus driver with MCS. “Being able to see some of their home life, where they live, [their] neighborhoods… I get to see some of them before they actually arrive to my classroom, so if they experience something rough in the morning time, I see that and it just helps me in the classroom.”
The school system says they ideally need seven more drivers but with growth next year they will need even more. Training is free for the participants and saves the school about $48,000.
According to the Alabama Community College System, schools across Alabama save $450,000 dollars through this program. The combined training for potential bus drivers can be completed within 50 hours.