Delays persist as Polk Co. trains new bus drivers

Polk County Schools is receiving dozens of applications from potential bus drivers, but the district's driver shortage is expected last several more weeks as new employees are trained to go out on the road, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

The district started the school year needing at least 70 bus drivers. Jason Geary, a spokesperson for Polk County Schools, said more than 60 people have applied to fill those positions.

Seventeen of those people have been hired and began training this week.

"It's my understanding that it can take from three to four weeks to get someone on the road as a bus driver," Geary said in an email to FOX 13.

In the meantime, parents and guardians are dealing with longer-than-normal student pick-up lines.

"There is no bus for her to ride because they have to take care of the ones that are in the district first, but there are not even buses for them," said Cathy Hampton as she waited to pick up her niece at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland. 

Hampton said her sister's family recently moved to a different school zone, but her niece still wanted to attend Lawton Chiles. Her loved ones have had to try to figure out how to get to and from school due to the bus driver shortage.

"It was very worrisome for my sister. She tried everything could do," Hampton said.

Many of the school buses were running on time Wednesday, but by 5 p.m., there were 39 buses running late, with delays ranging from 20 to 50 minutes.

Although district administrators have said bus driver shortages are a nationwide problem, Polk County school board member Billy Townsend said the issue in his district is clear.

"The problem is our pay range for a bus driver is $10 an hour to $17 an hour," Townsend said. "And a $17-an-hour employee has to work for 30 years to get there."

He believes Florida lawmakers aren't giving districts enough money to raise salaries.

"They have chosen not to fund us adequately enough to provide really a living wage to our bus drivers," he said.

By comparison, Hillsborough County Schools, which does not have a bus driver shortage, pays its drivers $13.48 an hour.