One of the biggest debates in modern education has nothing to do with the classroom, but rather with the thing that gets students to the classroom. School buses have become a source of worry, frustration, and anxiety for school districts everywhere. School busing is a vital component to education in the United States: the American School Bus Council estimates that there are 480,000 school buses on the road each day in the United States, all ferrying children to and from school (and many paid for by taxpayer dollars). Problems with bus drivers—both in bus driver shortages and bus drivers with red flags in their backgrounds—are making it more difficult for schools to guarantee safe rides to school.
The first problem is a nationwide shortage of bus drivers. Around the country, school districts and busing contractors (which many school districts hire to provide student transportation services) are struggling to find people to drive their buses. Recent survey data suggests that 90-95 percent of districts and busing contractors are facing bus driver shortages. For most, the problem is getting worse each year. Employers are offering higher salaries for bus drivers than they used to along with perks such as hefty signing bonuses.
One reason for the shortage is the combination of a very robust economy and very low unemployment rates. Add the fact that school bus driving jobs are seen as stressful and mostly thankless, and you have a recipe for high demand and limited supply. With thinner applicant pools, school districts and school bus contractors are faced with a dilemma: lower their hiring standards and take the applicants that they can get or risk not having enough drivers to cover bus routes.
These issues contribute to the other big problem that school districts are facing: bad press about dangerous, unqualified, or poorly-vetted bus drivers. A recent news investigation of bus drivers for the Iowa City Community School District found that many of them had severe red flags on their records. Past offenses among these bus drivers included supplying tobacco products to minors, domestic assault, drug possession, public intoxication, and passing a school bus illegally. Five of the 111 drivers had ten or more driving infractions on their records, some of them serious.
No matter how significant their bus driver shortages, school districts cannot afford to hire bus drivers without thorough background checks. Not only does a lack of due diligence risk the safety of the students on board, but it also puts school districts at huge liability risk. Detailed bus driver screenings that include driving record checks, employment verifications, criminal history searches, professional license checks, and drug testing are a must. These background checks can help school districts and busing contractors ensure that every driver they put on the road is qualified, experienced, safe, and trustworthy.
At backgroundchecks.com, we work with numerous school districts and bus companies to establish and execute thorough bus driver screening policies. Contact us today for help developing such a policy.