- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

Officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia say all but a handful of bus driver vacancies have been filled, so area students will have a ride to and from school when classes begin in the coming weeks.

In Prince George’s County — the second-largest system in Maryland and the 18th largest in the country — school begins for a projected 134,421 students on Monday.

Officials said they have no bus driver vacancies and 62 substitute drivers will be confirmed as permanent at the county Board of Education’s Aug. 23 meeting. The county has more than 900 drivers total.

“There will be a driver in every seat on the first day of school,” schools spokesman John White said.

Mr. White said the school system runs 1,335 buses on 5,600 routes each day, and despite having all positions filled, officials are still on the lookout for more drivers.

“There’s a need to have additional bus drivers available so we don’t have any shortages,” he said.

Montgomery County public school officials also said they have all their routes covered for the first day of school Aug. 27, but are still actively recruiting.

The county has approximately 1,400 drivers, 1,265 buses and a projected enrollment of 145,622 students.

“We basically have the drivers we need to start the opening of school,” schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison said. “But we’re always recruiting new bus drivers because there’s some ebb and flow.”

Recruiting and finding qualified bus driver candidates has been a challenge for some districts in the past, because applicants face stringent requirements and receive relatively low pay.

Last year, Fairfax County Public Schools had about 100 positions vacant as the start of school approached, despite increasing benefits and offering flexible schedules.

This year, school officials said they have about 1,120 bus drivers and about 50 open positions.

School starts for the county’s nearly 165,000 students on Sept. 4, but Linda Farbry, director of transportation for the system, said officials will ensure that all 6,500 bus routes are covered.

“We have supervisors driving runs. We have drivers who split up runs that aren’t being covered …,” Mrs. Farbry said. “Whatever we can do to pick those children up and get them there, preferably on time, that’s the direction we go.”

Mrs. Farbry said the school system is always looking for qualified drivers, and is working with a recruiter this year who will focus on hiring parents for the transportation system.

Drivers can be guaranteed 35 hours of work per week and earn a starting salary of $16.57 per hour, Mrs. Farbry said.

“While we need drivers, we are very, very picky,” she said. “We can’t settle for somebody who’s not a particularly good driver or who has another problem. That really narrows down our ability to hire a lot of folks.”

In Arlington County, schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said all 113 permanent, contracted bus-driving positions are filled and the system is working to build its pool of substitute drivers.

Nearly 9,000 students took the bus each day last year and the school system operates at least 216 routes, Mr. Bellavia said.

Alexandria school officials reported a similar situation — the school system has 96 drivers to cover 88 different routes and just one vacancy.

“We’re in good shape,” schools spokeswoman Amy Carlini said.

In the District, buses transport students with special needs. The system has its full complement of 700 drivers and roughly 750 aides to help monitor the students, but is still recruiting for substitute drivers.