December 2015

Is relief on the horizon for bus driver shortages in Texas?

An improving economy coupled with explosive growth in Texas oil and gas operations have exacerbated school bus driver shortages in Texas. Bus drivers were enticed to the oil fields by substantially higher salaries—salaries school districts could not match. The oil and gas boom has eased, but driver shortages aren’t going away.
 
A 2015 School Bus Fleet magazine survey found that only 6 percent of national school bus contracting companies reported having enough drivers, with 28 percent saying they are at severe shortage levels.
 
A recent report from the U.S. Departments of Education, Transportation, and Labor predict this trend will continue over the next decade. The report says that school bus drivers will account for 330,699 transportation job openings nationwide during this time, second only to tractor-trailer truck drivers. Intuitively, bus and truck mechanics will also continue to be in high demand, with an expected 86,850 job openings.

Raising driver pay

What are districts doing to find bus drivers? First and foremost, raising driver pay. Looking at trends in median bus driver salaries in Texas over the last three years, a correlation can be seen between the oil-rich areas of the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin zones and the Education Service Centers that serve them.
 
In descending order, the ESCs that saw the biggest increases in their districts’ median driver salaries during this time were 14, 15, 17, 18, and 3. Bus drivers in these five regions got an average pay increase of $1.66, compared to just $.65 for the rest of the state. As can be seen below, Region 14 led on pay in a big way, with an overall median increase of $2.45 an hour.

Largest increases in bus driver pay by Region
since the 2013‒14 school year

Region 18 Midland +$1.26
Region 3 Victoria +$1.27
Region 17 Lubbock +$1.40
Region 15 San Angelo +$1.92
Region 14 Abilene +$2.45

The oil business can be fickle, and increasing driver pay has long-term consequences for school districts. With that in mind, some districts like Cotulla ISD (Region 11) gave drivers a stipend ($2-per-hour) to combat constant attrition and avoid making long-term budgetary commitments.

Other options

While increasing pay is an important step to alleviate driver shortages, districts have other options to consider.
 
Districts like Pearland ISD attract and retain drivers by spreading their pay over 12 months, offering bonuses, and guaranteeing six-hour workdays. In Clear Creek ISD, bus drivers are guaranteed a five-and-a-half hour workday offered benefits including group medical, vision, dental and life insurance; and can earn $100 for recommending someone else who is subsequently hired as a bus driver.
 
Districts should also let potential applicants know about other perks, including no required weekend work, no cost for training and development, summers off, and extra work hours for those that want them.