School Bus Driver Shortage Again Troubles Anne Arundel County Families

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — The ongoing bus driver shortage has inconvenienced families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges seem like they will continue this year. Some students returned to the classroom Monday, but many students didn’t have a bus to school.

Fifty bus routes lacked a driver heading into the first week, Anne Arundel County Public Schools said. That deficit caused bus delays or cancellations for 55 schools on Monday.

The school system reminded families to check daily to see if their buses are running. AACPS said it is still searching for drivers, but it encouraged families to find alternative transportation while the problems persist.

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“Contractors are continuing, with AACPS assistance, attempts to secure drivers, and additional route adjustments are being explored,” the school system said Tuesday on Facebook. “As we continue to try to reduce the number of outages and hire more drivers, families are encouraged to seek to establish carpools, etc. Some schools and PTAs have already begun those programs and conversations.”

Families Face Familial Problems

Dozens of parents commented on the AACPS post listing the schools affected Monday morning. This post no longer shows on AACPS’s profile, but a new afternoon list is filled with similar concerns.

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Families shared stories on the now-removed post of buses that never came, arrived too early or drove past students waiting to board.

Severn resident Tracie Walker said her family’s buses were not on the daily list of affected routes, but her elementary and high schoolers’ buses never showed. She added that her middle schooler’s bus was 15 minutes late.

“How can our kids take their education seriously when the school system doesn’t,” Walker said on Facebook.

Jamie Howarth went outside to take family pictures 22 minutes before her bus was scheduled to leave. She then watched the bus arrive early and continue past her street. Howarth said her husband chased the bus driver down the street, but their kids still couldn’t board.

“We are now driving the kids to school and see all of the kids waiting on the side of the road that he didn’t pick up because he was significantly early,” Howarth said on Facebook. “At least a dozen kids will miss at least the start of school today if not the whole day. I guess I should be thankful we even have a bus at this rate.”

Families were also frustrated that the issues still exist, even though they had to register their students for bus transportation. This was a new policy that hoped to identify the most efficient bus routes possible.

Laura Barefoot was upset that this registration prevents students from taking other buses that don’t have disruptions.

“This is ridiculous,” Kay Fuller said on Facebook. “We had to register for our kids to ride a bus and told this was to take care of the bus issue but here we go again.”

The school system also adopted new start times this year. Most elementary schools now start at 8 am Middle schools begin at 9:15 am High schools start at 8:30 am The hours of every school are posted here.

This move was already controversial because of the shift in schedules, but the ongoing driver shortage added to those worries.

“Aacps and the board of education need to realize these new start times aren’t going to work,” Odenton resident Shelby Bylsma said on Facebook. “Why change something that was working before?”

Politicians Weigh Solutions

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman tried to address the bus driver shortage last fall by securing signing and retention bonuses for drivers.

Every current or new driver will get a $5,000 bonus. Bus attendants will collect $2,000. Pittman also said this year’s budget included a pay raise for school bus drivers.

The county executive hoped this would attract more drivers and attendants. The problem, however, extends beyond Anne Arundel County. The entire nation faces a shortage of commercial drivers.

Despite these efforts, some Anne Arundel County bus drivers unionized last year to fight for higher wages. The news came days after Pittman announced the driver bonuses.

“We have made great progress over the last few years, but we know that this year will bring some challenges as well,” Pittman said Monday on Facebook. “Families will be adjusting to a new schedule, and despite our investments in pay raises and increased recruiting the national labor shortage is still impacting our schools. But overall, I remain optimistic.”

The Democratic incumbent is up for re-election this November. He will face Republican Jessica Haire, who is the current County Council Member for District 7.

Haire was the only council member who did not vote yes for this year’s bipartisan budget, which includes raises for all teachers, staff and bus drivers.

The GOP candidate now wants to consider creating smaller routes, contracting vans instead of buses, giving financial incentives for carpooling and instituting rolling outages.

“Two years into this problem, it’s extremely clear that alternate solutions aren’t being utilized,” Haire said Tuesday on Facebook. “As your next County Executive, I will partner with the school administration to find short term, medium term, and long term solutions to this problem. Because telling parents they have no transportation is not a solution.”

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