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NHCS addresses bus driver shortage, says situation is improving

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Last week, concerned parents took to social media to air their grievances about late buses.

WHQR spoke to New Hanover County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Eddie Anderson about staff shortages affecting the school system’s bus routes.

At the start of this school year, the district had 97 bus drivers out of 116 total positions. Full ridership of the buses is around 13,000 students, which is 1,000 more than they had last school year, Anderson said. Last week was particularly difficult because they were starting off with more riders, and fewer bus drivers. However, as of this week, there are now 104 drivers.

That’s helped with lateness last week, there were 44 late buses. This week, there were 27, an average of 14 minutes late.

According to Anderson, it’s common for families to request bus service early in the year but ultimately not use it. If the student isn’t on the bus at least three times a week, they are removed from the bus route.

Anderson also said the district is addressing what are called “double-backs.” This is when the same bus (and the bus driver) make two routes to the same school — which can slow things down. There are currently 31 double-backs at the elementary school level, and 78 at the middle and high school levels. With more drivers and adjustments to routes, the school district hopes to eliminate as many double-backs as they can, Anderson said.

The county has stepped up its recruitment efforts to fill bus driver positions, Anderson said, adding that it's been effective. The district understands that not everyone can wait a full 4-8 weeks with no pay to get their CDL certification, Anderson said, so they have a mentorship program to help with that. As soon as potential drivers pass the written test, they are put on buses as aides so they can receive payment — and also mentorship and advice from veteran bus drivers.