Local school districts in desperate need of bus drivers

Local school districts in desperate need of bus drivers

PITTSBURGH — If you’re out of work, there’s a profession that will hire you right now.

There’s a desperate need for school bus drivers.

In fact, a sign stretches the length of a school bus, advertising the need for bus drivers in Baldwin-Whitehall School District. And right on the front page of the Bethel Park School District website is a message asking for full time drivers after some of them unexpectedly left.

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The school bus driver shortage is a huge problem in Western Pennsylvania. But it’s not just districts, it’s bus companies stretching their current drivers as far as they can go, to fill the gaps to get kids to school on time.

“We transport the most precious commodity of our communities,” said John Risch, a supervisor with W.L. Roenigk Bus Company.

Risch thinks when the steel mills closed it became harder for people to pick up a second job and work a bus driving shift. He also thinks there’s a decline in drivers because there’s a misconception about what it is to be a school bus driver.

Dorothy Herold told us it’s a great job. She drives a bus and is also a supervisor for W.L. Roenigk School Bus Company. The schedule was just what she needed in 1999 when she stared driving and her kids were little.

“You have weekends off, holidays off, snow days off,” said Herold. “It worked perfectly for me. I didn’t have to do extra for daycare because my children were in school.”

And even though they’re older now, she’s still doing it because she loves the kids on her bus!

“You really get attached to these children,” she said.

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On a ride with Herold, Risch told us COVID-19 has impacted drivers choosing to return this year. But even with that and some districts mandating strict social distancing on the bus, they’re making the routes work and adjusting weekly if they need to.

But Channel 11 news anchor Jennifer Tomazic asked him if he thinks he’ll ever find himself having to tell a district that he doesn’t have a driver to take the kids somewhere.

He said it could happen but right now they’re able to plan enough in advance with the districts. He is, however, very worried about the future of his profession.

Risch admits the process of getting a CDL license to drive the bus might be intimidating, but his company has made some plans to get drivers working ASAP during that process.

The application to be a bus driver is 40 some pages long for W.L. Roenigk and the company requires five different background checks, according to Risch.

But once those are done, he says they can get drivers on the road and get paid right away driving vans because those don’t require a CDL.

Risch says drivers can work on their CDL and take the test in house with his bus company. He says it can take anywhere from three or four weeks to a couple of months.

Here is a link to their website: http://www.wlroenigk.com/careers/

Bethel Park School District eagerly told Channel 11 they are absolutely still looking for responsible school bus drivers. You can find more information HERE.