DENVER — As the first day of school for Denver Public Schools nears, its transportation department is facing a big problem.
"We're well over 50-60 drivers short," Albert Samora, the department's executive director, said Sunday.
In the nearly two decades he's worked in this industry, Samora says he's never seen a school bus driver shortage like this. In a normal year, he's about 25 or more drivers short.
"We've dealt with good years, bad years, but I've never seen any of those years as bad as this one," he said.
The department currently has about 166 drivers for its roughly 218 routes. That's 18 drivers fewer than it had at the end of last school year.
"We have to pull people out of other positions because they all hold the same credentials as our drivers in order to fill the gaps," Samora said. "Even if I lose five, we're in a critical position right now."
Samora knows his school district is not alone with this problem, however. The pandemic has forced drivers everywhere to make tough decisions. Some have retired or pursued other careers.
"We don't get the interest in this job that we used to get years ago," he said.
He fears the shortage may only get worse when Denver's vaccine mandate, which applies to DPS employees and contractors, takes effect on Sept. 30.
"I think that there are some people who might make a decision based off of that mandate," Samora said.
For now, the department is looking at possibly increasing its hourly pay from $19.93 and making sure each driver gets benefits in order to retain current drivers and attract new ones.
"We're in the process right now of working with our union leaders and determining how we can make this job, you know, basically a better job for all of our drivers," Samora said.
With the new school year soon beginning, he's asking parents and students to be patient as a shortage like this could affect timeliness. However, at this point, no specific routes are being affected.
If you are interested in becoming a bus driver with DPS, visit the district's careers page.