Local counties face national school bus driver shortage

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WALTON COUNTY, FL -- (WTVY) A shortage of school bus drivers is impacting counties across the nation and Walton County looking for a way to put drivers behind the wheel.

With 18-hundred miles of road to cover, Walton County school district's bus transportation officials say they are doing their best to get kids to and from school.

"Safety is our number one goal. We carry the most precious cargo in the world and so that's our first and foremost thought," said, Transportation Coordinator for Walton County School District, Dennis Grey.

But the buses in Walton County are filled to capacity and drivers are doing double routes due to the shortage.

"We have had an occasion where other people that work for the county in other capacities help us in our route driving and we've also had to be creative in our route building, but we're all working together as a team to make it happen," Grey said.

Compared to other neighboring counties like Escambia County who began the year 40 drivers short and Okaloosa County who was 20 drivers short, Walton County said they started off the school year just nine drivers short, but said keeping qualified workers in the drivers seat is a challenge.

"It's the national shortage. We're a little below average here in the panhandle. We're fortunate enough to be able 10 percent below our route numbers. Other places in the news, they're extremely short," Grey explained. "It's not exactly where we want to be but it's a step in the right direction."

With competitive pay and full benefits, Walton County School District transportation is still looking for six drivers to hop on board.

"Here in Walton County we are fortunate we get to start the pay really, really well. It's a little over 16-dollars an hour. We also participate in the state retiring system and we also have Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance so it's a part time, full time job," Grey said.

Although the job is only part time, those in the business believe there are many perks to the job.

"I think one of the perks also is being able to give back to your community, spend time with children and be a part of their lives daily," Grey added.

He said it's all about finding the right person for the job.

"I think the work schedule is conducive to some people's life styles and not others because it's in the morning and afternoon shift," Grey said. "It works well with people who are retired or have the ability to stay at home and be with their children. It can also not be conducive because it does tie up a lot of time during your day but you're only getting paid for roughly four hours of the day."

"We hope, as all counties do, to be 100-percent with all routes being covered. For anybody out there looking for a part time job with full time benefits, come see us," he said.