For just a couple of months, Kingston Community Schools had a full complement of bus drivers.

KINGSTON — For just a couple of months, Kingston Community Schools had a full complement of bus drivers. The district opened the new school year two bus drivers short – about one-third of the fleet’s needs. It was relying on substitutes to fill the void. 

One substitute was a cafeteria worker who was driving afternoons after working all day. The transportation/elementary school secretary also was driving a morning route and then working all day. Another substitute, who recently retired, was driving morning and afternoon routes. During this time, two candidates were in training. Those two filled the open full-time spots in October.

In just the past month, the district lost two bus drivers – one that had served the district for a little more than two years and one that had just finished training to become a full-time driver.One resigned over Christmas break and one just two weeks ago, “both to take better-paying jobs they were more interested in than bus driving for us,” Superintendent Matt Drake said. So the district is back to using two of those sub drivers to fill the void. “That’s still tough, still tight,” Drake said. “I don’t have anyone in the hopper. If we lose another one I don’t have anywhere to go to fill a gap. We’ll be in real trouble.”

One issue, he said, are the requirements for bus drivers. One reason is the federal requirements are the same applied to truck tractor-trailer drivers “We have made the prerequisite requirements for being a bus driver,” Drake said, “more stringent than any other job in education. “It is hard and, as they (drivers) are finding, ‘I can go somewhere else and make more money and not have to do all of this stuff.’”

Drake said he also knows Kingston’s not alone in facing this issue. In fact, the one common need among most state school districts are for bus drivers. Some schools have had to cancel routes because a driver is sick or has a family emergency, or have to alter the times when students are taken to extracurricular events so the driver can be available to run a regular route. “People are doing all kinds of crazy stuff,” Drake said. “It is a big problem. I’m not aware of anybody who says, ‘I’ve got more bus drivers than I know what to do with.’” The rest, he added, “are OK until something happens.”

Drake said he contacted a firm that subcontracts to provide drivers for school buses but discovered it wouldn’t sign a short-term contract through the rest of the year, but would only sign a three-year agreement. “The bottom line is they don’t have a pool of drivers waiting to drive,” he said. “They go out and start recruiting. What makes them think they can go out and find people I can’t find?”