Colorado has school bus driver shortage; districts get creative with recruiting

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DENVER -- A growing statewide school bus driver shortage means growing concerns across Colorado. Districts in the Denver metro area are seeing shortages of anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent.

An improving economy is part of the problem with drivers are finding higher-paying jobs elsewhere. Most districts pay school bus drivers $15 to $16 an hour.

“A lot of our drivers are going back to their original jobs now that the economy is better. They can go back to being CPA's or IT specialists," said Donna Grattino, the transportation director for the Douglas County School District.

Transportation directors for area districts also said more stringent guidelines regarding obesity and sleep disorders are also preventing candidates from getting a license.

"We're trying to provide the best service we can and it's very difficult while having a driver shortage," said Julie Castle, a driver in the Douglas County School District.

Transportation officials in Denver Public Schools said a growing population is also to blame. The district is trying to hire more drivers to keep up with growing enrollment.

Districts are also getting creative when it comes to recruiting drivers. Douglas County and Denver are among the districts starting referral programs, paying up to $200 to drivers who recruit new hires. They’re also advertising for drivers on the sides of some buses.

Douglas County pays drivers 5 percent more, hoping that will entice more candidates to apply. That’s good news for frustrated parents like Stephanie Van Zante, who lives in Parker.

Her son often arrives home almost an hour late because he’s stuck waiting for a bus.

"My concern is as the weather turns kids are standing out in the cold,” she said. “He’s sitting three per seat, kids knees in the aisle, so safety is a big concern especially driving down Parker Road at 55 miles an hour.”