Back to school: Bus driver shortage

(WAVY Photo/Matt Gregory)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The school bus driver shortage is a problem across the entire country. Some reasons people cite are: fear of driving such a big machine, fear of controlling so many kids and low pay.

WAVY.com Back-to-School Guide

So why would anyone want to drive and will your kids have a ride next week? Here’s what our Stephanie Harris found out from a bus driver who never expected to get behind the wheel.

Meredith Lawler is a mom first and a school bus driver second. “I was actually a licensed insurance agent; I still am, actually,” she told WAVY.com.

Last year she became a single mom and was paying more for daycare than she could afford. “Somebody said, ‘Hey why don’t you try bus driving; you get to take your kids with you.'” Lawler was hesitant at first, but it worked.

Her paycheck is less but she has more money in her pocket now that she’s cut her biggest bill: daycare.

New Drivers in Virginia Beach earn $13.91 an hour.  Bus drivers, on average, in the state make $15 an hour; that’s about $30,000 a year for full-time drivers.

“The benefits that the Virginia Beach schools offer for their employees is phenomenal and you have to factor that in,” said Virginia Beach Schools Transportation Area Supervisor Cris Sprouse.

Sprouse also cited summers and holidays off as big perks. He tells drivers “the job is what you make it”.

Part-time workers are welcome but everyone must pass the same series of screenings including: criminal and child protective services background checks, drug and alcohol testing and a lot of training.

“Probably the biggest hurdle going through is the written test for the commercial drivers license. They’re tough,” Sprouse said. Trainees spend 24 hours in the classroom, then hit the road for 14 hours in an empty bus, then 10 more hours with kids and an instructor alongside.

Not all school districts allow drivers to bring their kids, but Meredith’s two are always in tow and they have no complaints.

It’s not glamorous but neither is being a mom and these are the two best jobs Meredith has ever had.

Despite the bus driver shortage all the districts assure your kids will get to school.

If you would like to be a bus driver you can apply with individual school districts.