'We’re critically short.' Montgomery County 80 bus drivers short, days before school starts

Bus Driver Shortage
Posted at 5:47 PM, Jul 20, 2022

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The first and last person most students will see, each and every school day, is their bus driver. That's why it's a real problem if the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System can't find enough drivers this year.

"We’re critically short on bus drivers currently," said Ron Garner, Student Transportation Manager for the district.

CMCSS currently has 80 bus driver vacancies. For perspective, that's out of 330 drivers total. That means nearly a quarter of their available drivers are unfilled.

"80 is a very big chunk," said Garner.

Garner said this isn't a new struggle, due to the nature of the job.

"It’s part-time work, very early in the morning and late in the evening," he said.

A spokesperson for CMCSS added that the behavior of students and parents can also weigh into a decision to not become a bus driver.

"A lack of respect for the profession, and student — and in some cases, adult — behaviors are commonly referenced as concerns. CMCSS is continuing to engage families and the community, refine internal systems, processes, and training and improve social and emotional learning resources to address escalating behaviors observed over the past few years," said Johnson.

If they can't fill more driver seats, many of them will have to double up routes this school year.

"We put together some double runs, which means our students are getting to school about 15 minutes early in the mornings, and then the bus goes out and does a second run to get the rest of the students," said Garner.

That's why the district is making a U-Turn when it comes to attracting new drivers. New applicants will get a $1,000 sign-on bonus, the district will pay for training and CDL Licensing, and they've bumped up the pay and hours.

"Starting pay is $18.66 per hour with a 6-hour day; guaranteed a six-hour day," he said.

CMCSS is also adding stipends for driving extra routes at $10.00 per route in addition to regular pay, and a performance end-of-year bonus of $600 for drivers who have been employed with CMCSS for 18 months or more.

Existing applicants can also receive a $1,000 referral bonus. Garner wants potential applicants to know that health and retirement benefits extend year-round even though the job is off during the summers.

John Harter hopes to fill one of CMCSS's 80 positions.

"I’m excited. I can’t wait to start," said Harter.

While the extra benefits were enticing, memories from his childhood, as one of thirteen siblings, drove him to apply.

"Mom and Dad getting us ready was hard enough as it was, but we had a great relationship with our bus driver then, so I’m hoping to fill that role," said Harter.

For Harter, it's a chance to leave the first and last impression of a great day at school.

"I hope to be that for other kids," Harter said.

A problem statewide

NewsChannel 5 reached out to other major school districts to see what their bus driver vacancies look like.

  • Williamson County Schools reports 30 bus driver vacancies
  • Wilson County Schools reports 25 bus driver vacancies.
  • Metro Nashville Public Schools couldn't give us a specific number but says last year they had 72 bus driver vacancies.
  • Coffee County Schools reports 6 bus driver vacancies.
  • Franklin Special School District reports 3 bus driver vacancies.