By Mark F. Gray
As the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year begins, the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system is facing a transportation crisis. The absence of enough bus drivers are hampering efforts to deliver students, which is forcing the school system to take drastic measures to overcome the shortage.
PGCPS is holding bi-weekly job fairs in hopes of filling the positions, which continue to keep large numbers of students from getting to school on time. The County is offering competitive wages designed to make the job more attractive to commercial transportation operators from around the Washington Metropolitan area. The school system is fighting an uphill battle to attract candidates who are taking their expertise to Metro or other local school systems.
Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system is facing a major bus driver shortage. (Courtesy Photo
Prince George’s County Public Schools reportedly serve 81,000 students who travel on 5,500 routes each day. However, they reportedly still need to hire approximately 100-150 drivers to fully staff the 97 of the 1,142 routes that don’t currently have assigned drivers. The system is starting drivers with the appropriate CDL License at $17.87 per hour, which can rise to $34.15 hourly with a comprehensive benefits package, according to its website.
The desperation for drivers has led to drastic measures such as the school system convening a 23-member task force to address these transportation issues. Last November PGCPS CEO Dr. Monica Goldson issued a statement apologizing for the lack of service, which started making headlines when parents complained to various media outlets about the problems families were facing during the school transit crisis. Parents have complained that they can’t get correct information on their child’s bus. In some cases, during what were several of the coldest days of the year, students reportedly were forced to wait nearly an hour at the bus stop before it finally arrived. In early December, Fox5- D.C. also reported the school system isn’t tracking how many buses are seriously behind schedule.
PGCPS has formed a transportation task force that meets monthly where members are working to develop a plan that would combine routes to offset the driver shortage. An interim report is expected in January. However, by March, the task force is expected to make scheduling recommendations for arrival and departure times, bus driver recruitment and retention and any changes that should be made for the next school year. The full report from the task force is expected to be released by spring break. Dr. Goldson is hoping to have a solution in time to implement for the 2020-21 school year.
In September, Goldson acknowledged the “chronic bus driver shortage,” but also stated: “I do not expect them to remain all year.” It will test the “patience and flexibility” of the frustrated County residents to survive the last half of the school year.
The task force is believed to consist of parents, a Board of Education member, school system staff, County government staff and union representatives.