LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There’s a big challenge school districts around the state and the country are grappling with ahead of the first day of school: shortages of key positions.
“I just hope the buses work out in the end," said Aunna Maddox, a 14-year-old student, about her return to the classroom.
It’s the anticipation that’s been the hardest for Maddox and her mother.
“I’m just hoping they will find a way," Maddox said. “Kids are wanting to go back to school.”
For this former class president, remote learning will be a last resort. She said she craves the classroom. But just hours away from her first day of the school year, she’s worried.
“I know there is a bus shortage and stuff," she said.
There is a severe shortage of drivers, according to Eddie Campbell, president of the Kentucky Education Association. The association has more than 42,000 members.
“We're hearing it from all over. It's not just bus drivers, cooks, custodians, teachers," he said.
Among five of the Louisville area’s biggest school districts, there are about 1,100 job openings, according to data from the Kentucky Education Association, collected from Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby and Spencer county school districts as of July 29. Shortages of bus drivers are among the worst.
It leaves Maddox wondering how her return to school on the bus is going to work. We brought her question to someone with a job title that’s now in high demand.
“I love doing what I do," said Burt Teelucksingh, a bus driver with Jefferson County Public Schools for 15 years.
“It’s very involved being behind this wheel," he said.
He’s bracing for this year to be his most challenging.
“We’ve been given this curveball in our lives where everything’s been upside down," said Teelucksingh.
Teelucksingh said he hopes parents keep their kids home if they’re feeling unwell instead of sending them to school. He said it’s essential we all work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Why do you think there’s such a shortage of school bus drivers?” asked FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan.
“The application process and the people who qualify to become bus drivers, you’re not always going to get 20 applicants and 20 are going to come through. With the demand, with everybody trying to recruit drivers it has been challenging," said Teelucksingh.
And he said fewer people are wanting to become school bus drivers. Health concerns over COVID-19, likely a major reason.
“With the current shortage of bus drivers, is it going to be a challenge to get kids to school safely?” asked Vasan.
“We are able to safely transport these kids," he said. “The buses are going to be crowded however they are trained. The bus drivers are trained to handle this.”
They are reassuring words that alleviate but don’t erase the anxiety that fills Maddox.
“I definitely am concerned," she said. “There would be like three people to a seat in some spots because there’s not enough room for everyone,” she said, remembering her bus rides pre-pandemic.
A JCPS spokesperson said there will be about the same number of kids on each bus compared to before the pandemic. Masks will be required, and you can expect assigned seating for contact tracing.
“I hope kids are getting vaccinated so we can go back to school and ride the buses safely. I hope they wear their masks still. I don’t know I’m just hoping it works out," said Maddox.
If you’re interested in becoming a bus driver with Jefferson County Public Schools, or you’re interested in other positions, you can call 502-485-3370 to inquire about how to apply or check their website.
Click on JCPS to apply online or download an application.
►Contact reporter Paula Vasan at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
►Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at FOCUS@whas11.com