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Auburn schools face bus driver shortage, despite efforts to combat issue

Cayuga County education leaders say they are dealing with a shortage in bus drivers exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On December 17, the Auburn Enlarged City School District was forced to dismiss junior high and high school at noon due to a last-minute drive shortage, according to The Citizen. In early January 2022, the district cited the bus driver shortage as well as sub-zero temperatures as the reasons for cancelling a day of school.

Auburn Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said the week before winter break started on Saturday, December 18, the district was 10-16 drivers short. The district had to “triple our bus runs” to maintain their regular schedule, said Pirozzolo.

These challenges are not unique to Cayuga County. In September, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced measures to address the statewide shortage, including “short-term steps to remove barriers and recruit traditional and non-traditional Commercial Driver’s License holders, expand CDL testing opportunities, and enhance processes all designed to get more drivers into school buses,” according to a press release.

Pirozzolo said the governor’s effort haven’t “helped us one bit, because we still have the same bus shortage numbers that we had before those measures took places.”

The district has had an ongoing shortage in drivers for the past six years. It has been worsened by the pandemic as well as difficulty in obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The amount of available drivers started declining in January 2020, two months before the U.S. shutdown in March 2020. Pirozzolo says some drivers came back to work, but the district ultimately lost quite a few drivers.

The New York State Association for Pupil Transportation estimates there are currently 15-20% less bus drivers across the state compared to before the pandemic, about 8,200 drivers in total.