POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- Getting to class for the first day of school in Polk County could be a little tricky.     

The school district says it's facing a shortage of bus drivers. They're asking parents to drop their children off at school if they can.

“Thirty years. This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Margie Patterson, Vice President of AFSCME Local 2227, the union for bus drivers and attendants. 

Polk County Public Schools estimates it’s short about 60 bus drivers. Patterson believes the need is even greater.  

“Transportation is telling us 60 or 70, but we know it’s more like 100. We know when in service came around there’s a lot of drivers that didn’t return,” Patterson said.

The district blames the issue on the economy.

“The economy is improving, and it creates more jobs and more competition for our district,” said Rob Davis, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services.

Patterson said applicants are taking the free CDL license training the district offers and are then walking away from the job.

“As soon as they get that license in their hand, they’re out the door for more money,” Patterson explained.

She believes the drivers are underpaid.

“The surrounding counties start their drivers off at $14 an hour. Polk County starts their drivers off at $10 an hour. The numbers, the numbers don’t match,” Patterson said.
Due to the bus driver shortage, the district says parents should prepare for delays that could be up to 60 minutes.

“We just ask for their patience while we work through this process. It’s something that is not just a district issue, it’s a nationwide issue of bus driver shortages,” Davis said.

Until they get more drivers, the district has a plan in place.

“Doubling and tripling up on routes. We take a load in come back out and get another load,” Patterson said.

Both the district and drivers promise to pick up every child that’s standing out waiting for the bus. It just might take a little longer than normal, Davis said.

The school district encourages parents to check the district's website for bus delays before and after school.

Here’s a link to apply for the bus driver and bus attendant openings: www.polk-fl.net/employment/default.htm

Call 863-534-7298 for more information.