- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

Prince George's County, Md., needs to hire 50 more school bus drivers before classes begin next week.

Classes start Monday, a week earlier than most other area systems, for nearly 130,000 children. About 97,000 students depend on buses to get to school, and it takes 1,096 bus drivers to cover those daily routes.

Other area school systems say they have the drivers needed when their classes begin a week later.

"We are aggressively recruiting," said Antonio Liberatore, assistant superintendent of Prince George's County public schools. "We are working with Human Resources to fill in the gaps."

As of yesterday, transportation officials had assigned all permanent drivers and all substitute drivers to routes but 50 assignments were still unfilled.

It is likely that, as they have for the past two years, some drivers will operate double runs in order to transport all eligible students.

Since all current substitutes are assigned, that means no drivers are available to fill in for drivers who call in sick or are unable to drive for some other reason.

Prince George's has a pool of 100 substitute drivers, but only 50 were available to be assigned to routes for permanent drivers.

Mr. Liberatore said the school system has sent out mass mailings, placed advertisements on cable-television channels and distributed fliers to recruit more drivers, both permanent and substitute.

Drivers are required to have five years' experience. Applicants must have a commercial driver's license, or a permit. The school system provides free training for the license. Pay ranges from $10 to $20 an hour.

The District of Columbia still needs about 200 bus drivers to transport about 4,000 special-education students after its contract with a private company was terminated in June. All of the regular routes have been filled.

"We're recruiting drivers and looking for alternative transportation," said Denise Tann, director of communications for D.C. schools.

Miss Tann anticipates sufficient drivers, or alternative plans, will be ready when schools reopen Sept. 5.

Other school systems reported that rather routine driver shortages had been solved.

"We will probably be the envy of surrounding school districts," said Alton Hlavin, assistant superintendent for Arlington County, Va.

As of Aug. 1, Arlington needed just four drivers to fill out its 107 slots to transport 18,800 students. All drivers have been hired and are ready for schools to begin Sept. 5.

Fairfax County, Va., operates the largest public school bus system in the nation, requiring 1,262 drivers to transport more than 100,000 students.

"It looks like we're going to be OK [with bus drivers] when school begins," said Paul Regnier, coordinator of the communications office.

"To some extent, there is a continuing shortage," Mr. Regnier said, but that is natural for a system that large.

Montgomery County, Md., schools transportation officials would like to hire 25 to 30 more substitutes for its 1,300-member driving crew, spokeswoman Kate Harrison said. Bus transportation is needed for about 92,000 students out of an enrollment of nearly 131,000.

Alexandria, Va., also has filled all of its slots.

"I think we are in great shape," said Barbara Hunter, communications director for Alexandria schools, explaining that three drivers had been hired in the past 10 days to fill the need for 85 drivers on 77 routes for 6,000 students.

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