Following a shortage of 56 bus drivers on Sept. 10, the DeKalb County School District is working to address driver and parent concerns.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris addressed bus driver staffing and work condition concerns during a Sept. 13 school board meeting. The Superintendent’s Chief of Staff Antwyn Brown also discussed the bus driver situation with members of the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association at a Sept. 12 meeting.

Brown said that on Sept. 10 – the day of the shortage – initially only 35 drivers were going to be out due to a positive COVID-19 case in Doraville. However, 21 additional drivers also did not show up. All 56 bus drivers served District 1, which includes Doraville, Dunwoody and other areas in the northern area of the county. 

“There’s a shortage of all frontline workers during the pandemic,” Brown said. “It’s something we’ve been managing since the school year started.” 

Both Brown and Watson-Harris insinuated the shortage might have been due to some drivers’ concerns over working conditions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the Sept.13 school board meeting, Watson-Harris said the school district has a total of 895 routes, 769 drivers on the roster, and 107 vacancies. 

“We do have many, or some of our bus drivers, who have expressed concern with these current working conditions,” Watson-Harris said.

Both Brown and Watson-Harris said they met with some bus drivers over the weekend to discuss their concerns. Those concerns include increased pay, improved working conditions, and enhanced communication about when there might be a positive COVID-19 case on their bus. 

“Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the [Driver and Monitor Advisory Committee] to hear the specific concerns from the representatives from DMAC,” Watson-Harris said. “They have my commitment to follow up this week.”

During the Sept. 13 board meeting, board member Dr. Joyce Morley expressed concern over bus drivers safety, and said that she has heard reports from bus drivers that students are getting on buses without masks.

“What’s being done to keep these bus drivers safe?” she asked.  

Watson-Harris said the school district is in the process of creating an incentive plan for bus drivers and marketing bus driver jobs through billboards, three external job fairs, and school marquees. The school district has also been looking at routes to see if any can be combined.

The school district will also launch a Cloud-based routing software called Edulog on Sept. 15. The software will be used at all schools, allowing parents to track buses and have a better idea of when their children will arrive at home. Parents can download the software as an app on their smartphone. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.