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Why school systems are asking parents to be patient as students return to class
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Hall County bus driver Teresa Young prepares for the school year Thursday, Aug, 4, 2022, by filling up at the bus shop on Atlanta Highway. - photo by Scott Rogers

Parents, don’t be surprised if the bus is late when school starts.

“We are absolutely asking for some flexibility, especially during the first week,” said Clay Hobbs, director of transportation for Hall County Schools. “What I have noticed here and in the last, I’d say, four years in Hall County, is the first three days things are a bit off schedule. They're chaotic.” 

In the post-pandemic era of public schooling, bus delays at the start of the school year are now standard fare. Bus driver shortages have become so dire that last year nearly a dozen states called on their national guards for help. 

And while the state of transportation in Hall County Schools hasn’t been quite that severe, it was bad enough last year that principals were getting behind the wheel and drivers were doubling — even tripling — up on routes. 

For its part, Gainesville City Schools is only short a couple of drivers, according to spokeswoman Joy Griffin.

“The first few days always have delays as students learn bus routines and ensuring they are placed on the right bus,” said Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams. 

Hall is starting the school year with 183 regular drivers and 35 special education drivers — for a shortage of about 27 drivers. 

Download the myStop mobile app to track your school bus. For more information, visit the Hall County Schools website, or call the transportation office at 770-287-0942. 

That is on par with last year, when the district was short about 30 drivers, but Hobbs said more drivers are out on medical leave this year. 

Hobbs said they were in “survival mode” last year, and while they’re feeling even more pressure this year, he did strike a more optimistic tone. 

That is because the system has received a flood of applications in recent weeks. 

The school board approved $3,000 employee raises in this year’s budget, which means starting bus drivers will now make about $18,732 per year. The average salary is $22,127, and drivers with more than 30 years of experience can make $25,523. 

That pay raise was followed by a successful marketing campaign. 

“When you see a 20% pay raise, that always gets people's attention,” Hobbs said. “And so once that was approved, we put some signs out and hung some banners in the community, and I think a lot of people saw those signs.”

But they’ve also received more applications for another, more peculiar reason. 

On July 21, WSB-TV Channel 2 inaccurately reported that “bus drivers earn more money per hour than many teachers” in Hall County Schools. 

That claim is not accurate, Hobbs said, and Channel 2 later issued a correction

But that mistake has produced a major upside for his department. 

“My department has benefited from their error,” he said, laughing. “We were already getting more applicants due to our advertising, but when that story came out it really changed.” 

Since then, they have received an “unprecedented number of applications.” 

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Hall County bus driver Teresa Young prepares for the school year Thursday, Aug, 4, 2022, by filling up at the bus shop on Atlanta Highway. - photo by Scott Rogers
Why the shortage given the flood of applications?

It takes time to train prospective bus drivers, Hobbs said, often as long as a month for even the most dedicated applicant. 

Until those applicants finish their training, principals will occasionally have to get behind the wheel and drivers will have to drive a second route to pick up the slack. 

One of those drivers is Teresa Young, 60, who has been a bus driver for 22 years. 

Delays often happen when drivers haven’t yet learned a route, she said. 

“Just knowing the routes, that’s the hardest thing,” she said. “Once you get a regular route and you learn the stops, it’s so much easier.” 

She said having a good relationship with students and parents is important, adding that she will often text or call a parent if she knows she will be late or notices that a child didn’t get on the bus that day. 

Parents and students can download the myStop mobile app and track their bus in real time. For more information, visit Hall’s website or call the transportation office at 770-287-0942. 

Despite the challenges of the last two years, Young said, “I love what I do.” 

“It’s a great gig,” she said. “I can make good money, have great insurance, have time off during the day.” 

When asked what was one her mind before the start of the new school year, Young had one word: Safety. 

Last year, Hall had about 50 bus accidents. 

“We did experience (more accidents) than we normally do,” Hobbs said. 

The vast majority of accidents were very minor, he said, but they are nevertheless ramping up driver training. He said they’ve held five safety meetings in the last two weeks.

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Hall County bus driver Teresa Young prepares for the school year Thursday, Aug, 4, 2022, by filling up at the bus shop on Atlanta Highway. - photo by Scott Rogers