Q&A of the Day – School Bus Driver Shortages & Transportation Issues

Q&A of the Day – School Bus Driver Shortages & Transportation Issues  

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.   

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Social: @brianmuddradio 

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.    

Today’s Entry: I had to write to you about Michael Burke. Part of the reason that Michael Burke has lasted so long is because he is unreachable. The bus system is overseen by transportation services. Michael Burke overseas transportation services. Transportation services for the kids of Palm Beach County are a complete disaster. We've been in school for about two weeks, and my daughter's bus is still not picking her up. We have been using transportation services for four years, and nothing has changed. I am an Ivy League educated professional, and extremely resourceful. The one person I have never been able to hold accountable for poor service is Michael Burke.  

Last year I reported my grievance to the accreditation company that overseas Palm Beach County school district, nothing was done. This year, I emailed Ron DeSantis and asked him if we can use transportation funds for private service, versus depending on the transportation services in Palm Beach County because it is so unreliable.  

One of the challenges for parents in Palm Beach County, is homelessness and violence. I live in a pretty good area, but there are still homeless people and violence. My daughter's bus stop is a couple hundred feet away from (the scene of a) murder. My solution to the bureaucracy in Palm Beach County Schools, is to split up the district. There should be a North Palm Beach County & South Palm Beach County school district. The district is too large. 

Bottom Line: Today’s note is a follow-up to yesterday’s Q&A about the high rate of turnover Palm Beach County has seen within its superintendents and the district’s current Superintendent Mike Burke. It’s also one of several notes I’ve received to start the new school year from parents complaining about the district’s busing issues and transportation woes generally. While there are usually a few hiccups here and there to start any school year – the continued complaints I’ve heard from parents experiencing issues makes it clear that the issues are more than just fleeting problems at the start of a new school year. Before diving into the idea of splitting up the Palm Beach County School District, in an effort to make it more manageable, let’s take a closer look at what’s behind the ongoing transportation issues within the district. 

The Palm Beach County School District consists of approximately 180 schools with over 200,000 students making it the tenth largest school district in the country. In order to account for the transportation of all students across the second largest county by way of geography in the state of Florida, there are a total of 475 daily bus routes. Approximately 54,000 students, or 27% of the student body population, rely on these buses daily to get to and from school. Entering the new school year there was good and bad news. The good news is that the shortage of school bus drivers was lower than a year ago. The bad news was that the school district was still 80 bus drivers short of where they needed to be (last year it was 100).  

As a result of the shortage the school district has ramped up pay and bonuses to aid in recruitment. In the meantime, being short by approximately 15% of the bus drivers needed to cover all of the routes is a real and ongoing problem for the families who live on those routes. The district has accounted for the shortfall by altering/expanding some routes which naturally takes longer for students to be picked up and to arrive along those routes. Another related problem that crops up and contributes to delays and seeming inconsistencies in the reliability of many routes, is what happens when existing bus drivers call out. Last school year at the peak of the shortage, there were bus drivers covering up to three routes at a time. Not only are there the obvious issues with delays that come with a bus driver attempting to cover for the work of two others, but there’s also a diminishing effect on productivity as well. When bus drivers aren’t familiar with certain routes, but are pressed to cover for them, they’re often less efficient at operating them. This paints the picture of the compounding effect of the issues associated with bus driver shortages. And then there’s the other wildcard. Traffic.  

In South Florida we know one constant has been ever more people, meaning more cars and more accidents. It takes the average commuter in South Florida 17% longer to get from point A to point B today compared to ten years ago. This obviously makes it that much more challenging for school bus drivers to do their work in a timely fashion, but it’s obviously exacerbated considering the issues we’ve already discussed. Something new that was rolled out for this school year which can at least help in understanding what’s going on day-to-day is the Here Comes The Bus website and app. Using GPS tracking, parents and students are able to know in real time where buses are. As for the size of the district and the potential for breaking it up... 

As mentioned, the Palm Beach County School District is the tenth largest in the country. That said it’s just the fifth largest in the state. Florida does have a proclivity for maintaining especially large school districts as we operate half of the ten largest districts in the country. The average school district across the country operates only six schools, or only 1/30th, as many as the Palm Beach County School District. I’m not sure breaking the district up into smaller ones would fix the school bus driver shortage, though it might lead to greater responsiveness, which I know is a key concern of yours.  

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