Story and Photos By Richard Bednarski
Washoe County School District (WCSD) is nearly 50 drivers short, even after a massive push to hire new drivers over summer. With a hiring bonus of up to $2,000, the district is struggling to get enough drivers behind the wheel.
On Sept. 20, drivers began making double runs, causing delays of 45 minutes or more.
“This is my third school year and I can see that it’s gotten increasingly more stressful,” said Giana Curreri.
A stand-by bus driver for the school district, Curreri said that even though she loves her kids, the extra routes and runs drivers are facing is challenging. “Having more kids on the bus, they get frustrated with the situation as well.”
This acute shortage of drivers comes at a time when the entire nation is struggling to bring back a pre-pandemic workforce.
“Historically, we have had anywhere between 10 and 20 vacancies,” said WCSD HR Manager Caty Delone. She is hopeful the shortage can be down to these numbers by the end of the school year but is concerned about upcoming retirements. There has been attrition in drivers, even beyond the pandemic.
Time for double runs
“The biggest concern right now is the shortage of drivers to be able to drive the amount of runs that we have. On a given afternoon we may have 20 routes that we cannot cover,” said WCSD Director of Transportation Scott Lee. The shortage is currently affecting about 40 area schools.
These double runs will create stability for everyone from parents, drivers and students. With the second week of double runs underway, the district has said there will be staff staying with the kids at school while they wait for their busses.
For Lee, it is a rush to get new drivers behind the wheel and on their own routes. It takes about three to four weeks to fully train a new driver, which is paid for by the district. No previous bus driving experience is required and after people obtain their commercial drivers license they are given a route.
“Our main focus needs to be training the drivers that are coming in and getting them to their commercial drivers license in the shortest time possible,” Lee explained.
He knows there is frustration among not just the drivers, but families as well.
“Because we’re having to mix and match routes to be able to pick up. It’s unpredictable,” he added.
Stressful yet rewarding work
CAPTION – Washoe County School Bus Driver Giana Curreri poses for a portrait between routes on Sept. 17, 2021. As of Sept. 20, the district is short almost 50 drivers and drivers began making double runs to make up for the shortage.
For drivers like Curreri, the work is rewarding, despite the stress. She does her best to keep her kids settled and happy while safely getting them to and from school. She strives to remain calm and always has a smile on her face when working with kids.
She believes this translates to them “because when I drop them off at school and they’re all smiling,” she said.
School bus drivers are the first and last contact in the public school system many students see each day. This is important to Curreri.
“I firmly believe that [my attitude] increases their ability to have a good, rewarding, educational day at school,” she said.
When she drops them off at the end of the day, her smile is still on her face. Even still, Curreri is eager to see more drivers and return to how it used to be.
“Where we load our kids up and we take them to school, and we’re on time, and we’re not overloaded or overworked,” she said.
As the school year progresses — and the driver shortage continues — everyone from WCSD’s administration to parents are hopeful more drivers will get hired and trained.
“Please be patient with us,” Curreri said. “We are doing the absolute best that we can. Safety is also foremost with us with your kids. Nobody loves your kids like your parents, but we love your kids.”