HAMBURG, NY -- As a new school year approaches, and we know some may not want to hear that, school districts and bus companies are facing a growing problem -- a shortage of school bus drivers.
The problem isn't just a local issue, but a national problem as well.
Districts have been forced to get creative -- one school district says it's had other school personnel, licensed to drive buses get behind the wheel. Another district says it's had to start offering a cash incentive to current drivers, who bring in new drivers.
First Student brings kids to school all over Western New York, including Buffalo, and it says there's no doubt there's a shortage of drivers; but they still have enough to cover routes.
A survey by School Bus Fleet magazine backs that up, finding 22 percent of bus companies nationally call the shortage "severe," and 5 percent say they are "desperate" to find drivers.
"We were in a real jam up for sure two years ago," said Dr. Bret Apthorpe, the superintendent of Frontier Schools. He says his district didn't have enough substitute drivers and were forced to have mechanics and administrative staff, who are licensed to operate a bus, get behind the wheel.
"We realized that we needed to change our strategy, so we began to recruit stay at home moms and veterans," Apthorpe said.
The new recruits were found through parent teacher associations and veterans organizations.
"We're doing OK right now, but we certainly could do better," he said.
Why is there a shortage? We spoke to the president of the Western New York Bus Company.
"Maybe not as many people are willing to become a bus driver anymore. That could be a one of the reasons as well," said Gary Yuzbashev, the president of WNY Bus Company.
He says they do have enough drivers to cover routes and are always hiring. Drivers can start out making $14 an hour, and make as much as $19 an hour, depending on experience. And, they are required to have a commercial drivers license, which could take a few months to get.
"Because of a shortage, we're saying you come work for us, we'll get you the license that you need, we'll get you through all the training that's required and make sure you're good to go on a bus, for free," Apthorpe said. "Bus drivers are really important because they often set the tone for students every day."
First Student says that it does year round recruiting to hire more drivers. In the Niagara Falls School District, the superintendent says current drivers are offered a cash incentive between $500 and $1,000 if they recruit a new driver.