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Education

State officials are recruiting bus drivers for Pittsburgh and other districts facing a shortage

Noe Ortega PennDOT School Bussing
Natalie Kolb
/
Commonwealth Media Services
Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Noe Ortega speaks during a press conference, which encouraged interested individuals to obtain Commercial Driver’s License to address bus driver shortage in Pennsylvania, on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

Pennsylvania state officials are trying to find more school bus drivers for districts facing a shortage.

The number of commercially licensed bus drivers is the lowest it’s been in the commonwealth in five years. To keep students learning in person, the departments of Transportation and Education have reached out to 376,000 commercially licensed drivers in the state to help connect them to school districts in need.

So far, about 1,300 drivers have expressed interest. Commercial drivers license holders interested in school bus driving are directed to fill out this survey.

During a press conference Thursday, officials estimated they will need about 2,000 drivers to help fill the gap that was exacerbated by the pandemic. According to PennDOT, there are a little more than 42,000 CDL school bus drivers, down from 44,000 in 2017.

Private bus contractors across the state report that they lost employees when schools moved to remote learning in March 2020. They weren’t guaranteed work and either retired early or moved to a different field altogether.

Pittsburgh Public Schools delayed the start of the 2021-21 school year because of the driver shortage. As of last week, 200 students were still without district-provided transportation. District officials did not immediately respond to a request for an updated number on Thursday.

Recruiting hasn’t been easy either. School bus drivers often work a split shift for a part-time position. Also, it requires commercial driving training. Ryan Dellinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, said that training and certification can take about 12 weeks.

State Education Secretary Noe Ortega said Thursday that there aren’t easy solutions and it’s not an issue that will be solved soon.

“But we are keeping our eyes on the situation and responding the best way we can,” Ortega said. “By building coalitions, by facilitating connections and by putting out the call surrounding the alarm about this critical need.”

The state is also temporarily opening CDL skills testing for four weeks to give more opportunities to those interested. Skills tests can be scheduled at dmv.pa.gov.