ECTOR COUNTY - The Ector County Independent School District is facing their largest bus driver shortage yet. Even though the overall problem has existed for about 10 years now, officials said this puts them in an extreme bind, though parents and students may not be able to see it.
ECISD is starting the 2014-2015 school year off with more than 40 open seats. That's up from last year's 34.
The buses take about 8,000 students to and from school across 150 different routes everyday. Now, that there aren't enough bus drivers, the transportation department has to get a little creative to make sure they still run every single one.
All of the office staff and the mechanics will be doubling up as drivers. That's 25 extra buses in route, plus 15 subs for extreme cases. According to Transportation Director David Morris, the days are lasting 12 or 13 hours at least so everyone can take care of their usual duties on top of the driving. But "everybody's had a good attitude about that," he said.
Morris added that it puts a little bit of hardship on their customer service. "When our office personnel are out there driving a bus we don't have hardly anybody here to answer phones, and so that becomes a little frustrating to parents and to us," he said.
But he said the parents have been really understanding. Also, the staff that fills in typically runs the shortest routes so they can get back to their non-supplemental work.
This year the district is offering a $500 sign-on bonus and a higher starting salary from last year, but Morris doesn't feel it's enough to fill the spots.
"It doesn't really look too favorable because most of the folks that come and apply here do not have a CDL, so they have to go through the process of testing then eventually going through a driver's test, and go through our training," he explained.
All of which takes time. But the department said it's all for the kids, so they're pulling out all the stops to make the problem go unnoticed.