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The New Hanover County School district is feeling the national bus shortage

New Hanover County School bus lot is full after the morning runs.
Bethanie Simms
The New Hanover County School bus system has been taxed by higher demand -- and fewer drivers.

New Hanover County School is facing a shortage of bus drivers, which means route redesign, larger collection points, longer wait times, and more overtime for drivers. All of which have become a focus for New Hanover County School’s transportation department.

There is a national shortage of bus drivers. States like Massachusetts and Ohio have been forced to call up the National Guard to meet the need for licensed CDL drivers. New Hanover County isn’t there yet, but the school district is feeling the pinch.

Mark Clawson, the director of transportation for the New Hanover County School district says they lost just over 28% of their bus drivers during the pandemic.

“We started with 140 active bus drivers. On my rolls right now I have exactly 100 drivers," he said.

At the same time, the Wilmington area is experiencing unprecedented population growth, pushing demand for drivers and expanded bus routes even higher.

The decrease in drivers forced the county to completely redesign the 2,000 plus daily stops. Clawson says they have reduced the total miles driven each day by 25% by consolidating meeting locations. Citizens have raised concerns about larger groups of kids waiting at stops and kids waiting in inclement weather.

Clawson said yes this is a concern but “the benefit of doing this as our runs are shorter, which is good for COVID because kids aren't on the buses long.”

In a preemptive move to mitigate longer wait times, the district recruited the help of an app called EduLog where parents and kids can see real-time bus locations. Since its implementation, 9,000 users have enrolled and according to Clawson, it has nearly eliminated calls from parents for the status of buses.

"So the guessing game of where's the bus, when’s it coming is greatly diminished and reduced with this app," he said,

Like many industries, the demand for higher pay and better benefits is necessary for recruitment and New Hanover has increased both pays, sign-on bonuses, and with the need for drivers, there’s ample opportunity for overtime.

“I fully expect I'll have 20 drivers getting 50 or more hours each week," Clawson said.

In hopes of quicker recruitment, they increased the sign-on bonus from $500 to $1000 sign-on bonus (paid out after 120 days). Employees who referral a driver that is hired also receive a $1000 bonus.

New Hanover County has increased pay to $14 an hour. Full-time is 30 hours a week, anything over is paid overtime. They pay full medical, and dental benefits, paid sick leave, and vacation and it also includes a state pension.

Though the pay is still lower than the national average, Clawson says the job is great for retirees who want to earn extra money — or use the position as a launch point into another career within the district.

Interested candidates can apply online at the New Hanover County School district human resources site.

Bethanie is a freelance writer for WHQR. She was the 2021-2022 UNCW News Fellow during the pursuit of her M.A. in English. She holds a B.A. in Political Studies with a focus on Constitutional Law. Originally from California and Colorado, she is a Marine Corps Military Police Reserve officer and an Afghanistan War Veteran. Her civilian professional background includes corporate finance and legal litigation.