‘Don’t eat romaine lettuce’

Parents frustrated with ‘unreliable’ school buses: ‘The school system is failing me’

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Parents are calling on school leaders to find a way to get their kids to class on time.

Many area school systems are experiencing a bus driver shortage which is frustrating parents.

“Multiple times in the last two to three weeks the bus has constantly been late,” said Chesterfield parent Kimberly Torres. “In the mornings it’s been 28 minutes late.”

Chalkley Elementary School parent Kimberly Torres says her second grader’s unreliable bus makes it difficult for working parents like herself.

Kimberly Torres

“It’s a humongous inconvenience because I myself have to be at work immediately as soon as my son gets on the school bus every day,” said Torres. “When I am here not knowing if the bus is even coming, it’s inconvenient because I need to drive him to school. I risk my employment because of someone else’s mistake,” she added.

She says her son Matthew has been losing valuable instructional time because she says his bus isn’t dependable.

“I want the bus to come on time!” said Chalkley Elementary School student Matthew Torres. “I am really frustrated about the bus coming late and I get there the second bell rings then I get in there and the announcements comes on.”

Torres took her concerns to the Chesterfield County School system’s transportation department.

“When I called they told me that there were 17 vacancies in their department and 12 call outs and I was spoken to very rudely on that phone,” she said.

A Chesterfield County Public Schools’ bus driver, who asked CBS 6 not to identify her says, counties struggle to keep drivers for many reasons.

“It’s the lack of respect, the lack of pay, and a lot of it is no support from the schools, no support from the parents.”

The driver who has been with Chesterfield county for five years says she’s seen drivers quit soon after starting.

“Once they start picking up the kids and see the lack of respect they show the bus driver... when you ask them to sit down and they flip you off or cuss you out, some drivers aren’t going to tolerate that because honestly, it’s not worth the pay,” she explained.

CBS 6 reached out to Chesterfield County Public Schools for comment. A spokesperson said, “All routes are covered, and we continue to recruit drivers to support absences. We sincerely appreciate the patience of our families when there may be times that a bus is running late.”

“A lot of the bus drivers are leaving, so people are having to double back which means they take their kids home, go back to the school and pick up another route,” said the Chesterfield bus driver.

“Communication would be top priority. I understand as a parent that things will occur but without having any proper communication, how am I supposed to automatically know what is going on?” asked Torres.

Prince George County parent Candace Howard says she is dealing with the same issues.

“Each day is not a typical day. The buses can run from an hour late,” said Howard.  “We typically get the kids out waiting around 7:45 the bus sometime doesn’t get there until 9.  The afternoon pickup, it’s the same thing. The school gets out at 3:30, the kids don’t get dropped off until about 5.”

Candace Howard

Howard took her concerns to Prince George County Schools’ Superintendent Renee Williams.

Williams confirmed to CBS 6 this response to Mrs. Howard’s email:

“Mrs. Howard,

Yes, we are experiencing both late pick-ups for school and late returns home.  As you know we are in the worse Flu season in several years. Not only are our drivers out sick, we are also 11 drivers short. Any person within our organization that is licensed to drive a bus is driving. This includes our transportation coordinator.

Our school board is actively trying to resolve this situation. We hold job fairs, we give signing bonuses, and drivers get perfect attendance bonuses.

The school board has looked at changing school times and currently getting information on contacting bus services.

We welcome any suggestions you may have.

If you know of anyone who could drive a bus, please let them know that full time drivers get health insurance and retirement benefits.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Richmond parents have also notified CBS 6 with complaints of buses not showing up or arriving late.

Many counties hold bus driver job fairs to fill vacancies. Henrico County Public Schools just held its fair February 17, 2018.

“Currently right now we are down about 30 to 35 positions so we monthly recruit for bus drivers,” said Mary Alderson with Henrico Public School’s human resources. “We have a lot of competition with GRTC and our local surrounding school divisions, so we have to recruit on a regular basis.”

“If we have to get our supervisors out there to drive buses they also pitch in when needed, but we make sure our students are a priority and that we are going to pick up our students and get them to and from school on a regular basis,” said Alderson.

“They could give us more incentives,” said a Chesterfield bus driver. “They could appreciate us more, one ut-oh cancels out a thousand atta boys and we are tired of that. We want the support. We want better pay and we want to be recognized for us transporting the most precious cargo that God could ever give you.”

Starting pay for bus drivers in the Richmond metro ranges from more than $12.00 to $14.00 per hour.  Full time drivers also receive paid training and are eligible for bonuses and benefits.

“We’re stressed out as parents,” said Howard. “I know they are doing all they can do, but us families are really suffering as well with the inconsistency.”

Prince George Bus depot

“They need to figure out what the bottom line problem is and get this problem under control quick,” said Torres. “The school system is failing me as a parent right now.”

“Parents, the only thing we ask is that you work with us,” said a Chesterfield bus driver. “We’re sorry this is happening, if the bus is going to be late, if you’re in that much of a hurry take your child to school.” she added.

The driver says when Chesterfield County Public Schools' new start times take effect next school year, she fears things are only going to get worse.

“I think it’s going to make it worse, I really do, because they are going to need more buses. They’re going to need more bus drivers," she said. "If they can’t keep the bus drivers now, how are they going to do it with the time change?”

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