School bus driver shortage means some NJ kids get home at sunset
TRENTON – School officials say the bus driver shortage isn’t abating, which is leading to some New Jersey students not getting back home at the end of the day until nearly sunset.
Some students won’t get home until after the sun is down, once clocks are turned back when Daylight Saving Time ends on Nov. 7.
At a meeting of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools, school leaders said that although school bus regulations are largely driven by the federal government, there are ways for the state to help:
- Lobby the federal government to drop the ‘under the hood’ and mechanical knowledge requirement for school bus drivers to pass the commercial driver’s license test
- Improve the scheduling and administration of commercial driver's license (CDL) exams by the Motor Vehicle Commission, such as by reallocating staff to expedite the process
- Bring in National Guard members to drive buses, like in Massachusetts
- Engage in direct outreach and matching of individuals with CDLs to school bus routes through incentives, like in New York
- Allow 15-passenger vans to be used to transport students with a temporary state waiver from the CDL requirement
“Supply has not met demand, and if students are not in buildings, they cannot learn,” said Harry Lee, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Charter School Association, who said a statewide approach is needed, not a district-level one.
“We have routes not running, and we have students being picked up an hour and a half before school starts and being dropped over two hours after the end of our day,” said Sarah Bilotti, superintendent of the North Warren Regional School District.
Plainfield runs 16 buses rather than its target of 37, meaning some students don’t get home until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening – including kindergarteners and first graders.
Toms River changed the start time for five of its 19 schools because the district is 30 bus drivers short. The last of four tiers of students to be bussed home hits traffic and consistently gets home 30 to 45 minutes late.
The changes to the CDL test for bus drivers were brought up a few times at the committee meeting.
“Bus drivers are not truck drivers. They don’t have to go under the hood,” said Christine Burton, superintendent of schools in Millburn. “They fall back on calling for a backup bus.”
“Bus drivers drive buses. They don’t repair them,” said Tony Trongone, the superintendent of schools in Millville.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.