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By PAMELA GOULD
Stafford County is so short of school bus drivers that the division has begun sending some buses on double runs and packing children into every available seat, schools spokeswoman Valerie Cottongim said Thursday.
The division needs to fill 40 openings and has a chronic driver shortage for its fleet of more than 200 buses, she said.
On Wednesday, the problem was so severe that the division notified parents of elementary and middle school students that their children might get home as much as 20 minutes late.
Cottongim said a variety of health and family issues conspired to create an acute driver shortage.
Six bus drivers were in the hospital, one was off for dental surgery and another was absent for the birth of a grandchild, Cottongim said.
"It was just an abnormal number of people out on the same day," she said.
But she added that Stafford isn't alone in struggling to find enough drivers. Divisions in the area and around the nation are having problems.
She said the Fredericksburg region's low unemployment rate is hindering the division's ability to hire drivers. Stafford schools' pay rate, which is lower than in some surrounding counties, also makes it difficult to find qualified drivers.
Stafford pays its bus drivers $12.58 per hour and most drivers work 5 to 6 hours a day, Cottongim said.
Spotsylvania County pays its drivers $14.70 per hour, division spokeswoman Rene Daniels said. She said the county is always looking for bus drivers.
Bus drivers for schools as well as private businesses must have a commercial driver's license, and Cottongim said there aren't enough trained people to fill the need.
Both Stafford and Spotsylvania will train people who otherwise qualify for a bus driver position.
Cottongim said Wednesday's delay should not continue but Stafford will need to continue trying to address the driver shortage.
So far, the division has begun having some drivers deliver one group of children and then come back for a second run at the same school.
It has also combined some routes, which puts more children on a bus and lengthens the ride for some children.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972