VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It’s crunch time for school divisions in Hampton Roads. Many are still facing critical bus driver shortages.
“I definitely never saw myself driving a bus, I am not going to lie,” said new recruit Dominique Shores.
Big yellow buses will soon roll through neighborhoods again. Many with new recruits like Shores behind the wheel.
“I thought it would be super awkward and I had a lot of anxiety, but honestly, it was super easy,” Shores said.
Shores is driving for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. The new job means extra time with her son, who is a first grader this year.
“When he is out of school, I am out of school,” Shores said. “So, it kind of fit everything in my life that I needed.”
Mary Ann Naegely recently signed up after losing her job during the pandemic.
“I came to training class on Monday looking for benefits and I left Friday feeling like I had a purpose,” Naegely said.
Even with both ladies on board, Virginia Beach school division leaders said they are down 100 drivers ahead of the first day of school.
“We are pretty much where we were because we have had some summer resignations or retirements,” said VBCPS Transportation Director James Lash.
Lash said vacancies have almost tripled year over year.
Driver shortages are putting a wrench in transportation plans across the 757.
Officials with Suffolk Public Schools said they have 12 driver vacancies. Portsmouth needs 29 drivers. Hampton needs 26. Norfolk needs 84. Newport News is looking for 90, and Chesapeake is short 113 drivers.
“We are trying to do all we can do to get the kids to school on time, but that will be a challenge,” said Chesapeake Transportation Director Dr. David Benson.
Benson said they can sit two students to a bus seat this year, but that won’t solve expected delays.
“Our drivers will complete a route, and then they have to double back and get another group of kids, which will generate delays getting them to school and getting them home in the afternoon,” Benson said.
Officials said it takes about six weeks to fully train a bus driver.
“You have great trainers that really walk you through it once you step on that bus, so by the time you are actually taking that wheel, it just feels natural,” Shores said.
Shores loved boarding the bus as a kid.
“My bus drivers were some of my favorite parts of school,” she said.
Shores can’t wait to have the same impact on her students.
“If they’ve had a rough day at school, you might be able to make it better when they get on your bus,” she said.
Starting pay for bus drivers across Hampton Roads ranges from around $14 to $16 per hour.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Beach School Division says they will present a plan for bus routes at the next school board meeting on August 24.
Most school divisions are holding weekly walk-in interviews to fill positions.