VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Shortages and slowdowns have reflected school bus driver numbers in past years locally and nationally.

James Lash knows about this all too well. He’s the Executive Director of Transportation and Fleet Management for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

“I began my career as a school bus driver in 1981 for Hampton City Public Schools and I’ve progressed over the years,” explained Lash. “Now, I oversee one of the largest bus operations in Virginia here in Virginia Beach.”

Across our region, Lash himself has seen the ebbs and flows of school bus driver numbers. In his district alone, they’re in need of just over 60 drivers to fill seats.

As of mid-August to early September, Portsmouth Public Schools is looking to find 41 drivers, Suffolk needs closer to 20, Williamsburg/James City County Schools rolls in at five vacancies, Hampton is looking to fill 17 vacancies, Norfolk wants to hire another 90 drivers and Chesapeake varies at 97 full-time driver positions and 20 part-time positions.

Local School District Bus Driver Vacancies

School Districts Total Bus Driver Vacancies
Chesapeake117 (full-time/part time)
Portsmouth 41
Williamsburg/James City County5
Newport News17
Virginia Beach63
*Several school districts are missing from this table due to lack of response from that individual school district.

Lash told 10 On Your Side that a recent decision to raise the starting pay of drivers has increased their employment rates exponentially. During the 2020-2021 school year, Lash said their vacancies sat closer to 140.

A new starting pay of $21 an hour, with room for more pay depending on experience in addition to other benefits, seems to have aided that.

“We’ve had a challenge, but back in April our school board gave us approval to up the pay,” explained Lash. “It allows us to pay drivers, from day one, to come into training at $21 an hour. They’re paid throughout the training, they receive health benefits and then, once they’re contracted on, they receive other benefits.”

Benefits for Virginia Beach drivers include being entered into the Virginia Retirement System, increased pay for previous CDL experience, health insurance, dental insurance, sick leave, personal reasons leave, life insurance, disability coverage, wellness program and flexible hours.

A unique benefit is the ability for drivers with children to have them ride along during their shift. Lash said this is a huge incentive for parents looking to save on childcare.

With many drivers already in training after the raise announcement, Lash is hopeful that VBCPS bus driving seats will be filled by the end of 2022.

The additional benefits and higher pay translating into higher employment rates is a nod to the root of the shortage in school district staffing across the board.

Hampton City Schools transportation department confirmed it also has a minimum starting pay for bus drivers of $21/hour and is currently offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 (after taxes.) CDL training is provided and trainees receive $12/hour while taking the class. If you’re interested, there are walk-in interviews every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Patriot Operations Center, 1589 Wingfield Dr. Hampton, 23666. You can also apply online.

Norfolk Public Schools told WAVY it is seeking to hire 90 additional drivers to meet its staffing allocation. NPS has job fairs scheduled for September 21 and October 19. NPS is offering a starting pay of $21.64/hour for bus drivers.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports state and local public education employment fell by nearly 5% overall, with much larger declines in some states.

Household survey data shows the number of employed public K–12 teachers fell by 6.8%, school bus drivers by 14.7%, school custodians by 6.0%, and teaching assistants by 2.6%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Low pay is a reported issue for staff long before the pandemic. From 2014 to 2019, the median weekly wage for school bus drivers was $493. In contrast, the median U.S. worker earned $790 per week.

If you’re looking to drive for a school district, you can apply here.

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