Home Local News Richmond County Schools looking to hire 25 bus drivers to combat shortage

Richmond County Schools looking to hire 25 bus drivers to combat shortage

Richmond County Schools is down 25 bus drivers and is looking to hire more.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — Like many school districts in North Carolina, and across the country, Richmond County Schools is dealing with a shortage of bus drivers.

Richmond Senior High School Principal Jim Butler posted about the shortage on the school’s Facebook page several weeks ago, after sending out a message about possible delays on the following day.

“We are working with a shortage of available bus drivers,” Butler said. “We will be doing all we can to get our students to school safely and on time. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated.”

Butler then said students in the northern end of the county — Derby, Norman and Jackson Springs, specifically — “are advised to find an alternative way to school.”

The principal then encouraged anyone with difficulty getting to school to call the school “to notify us of your conflict. We will work with you to ensure that you are not affected in a negative way.”

Some parents commented, asking why the students the farthest away from the school were the ones who needed to find alternate transportation.

RCS Transportation Director Debbie Blake said the driver for that route was out and her department had to rearrange routes.

“I understand those families’ issues and I’ve been on the phone with some of them … I do think we’ve done well,” Blake said.

She added that she didn’t think any of those students were left and Butler had said he wouldn’t count them absent.


Blake said there are “at least” 25 bus driver positions that need filling to get back to pre-COVID staffing levels.

Dr. Julian Carter, associate superintendent for human resources for RCS, said there were 65 drivers for 89 buses as of Jan. 19.

“Twenty-five will make sure all the buses are running and we’ll have enough to cover routes in the case of a driver being out,” Carter said. “You always need two or three in your back pocket.”

To combat the shortage, Blake said her department has rearranged routes as needed to make sure students are getting to school.

Carter said the shortage actually started prior to the COVID pandemic. However, since the pandemic, Carter said more drivers have left.

What started the exodus, according to Carter, were more stringent regulations from the N.C. Department of Transportation, including being able to jump off the back of a bus.

“That made some (drivers) uncomfortable and some of them couldn’t pass the test and some of them just didn’t want to do it anymore,” Carter said, “because you have to re-up. You can’t just get a license and keep it forever … A lot of drivers were scared … some drivers just resigned.”

Blake added that the NCDOT also requires a physical.

Carter said the NCDOT plan was “solid” in terms of safety, “it just makes it so much harder.”

The pandemic, Carter said, “exacerbated everything.”

One day during the Omicron surge in January, Carter said there were 18 drivers out, which is roughly 25% of the crew.

Carter added that the core group of about 80 drivers are very dedicated to the district and the students. He said some are running two to three routes a day and filling in where needed.


“They are constantly plugging holes, making the impossible possible,” Carter said. 

Blake said that her department is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” with bus drivers. “But it seems to be working.”

Carter and Blake also praised the five-man mechanic division for keeping the buses running.

Carter also encourages parents to download the Here Comes the Bus app.

“It’s like an Uber, it tells you when the bus is getting there,” Carter said. 


The training for drivers includes three days of classroom instruction and one day of testing, Blake said. Then potential drivers have to get a permit from the Division of Motor Vehicles and hold it for 14 days before the four-day behind-the-wheel training starts.

Trainees then have 30 days to get their license “or it all expires and you start over,” Blake said.

Carter said the school system will reimburse hired drivers for their training.

Starting pay for drivers was recently increased to $13 per hour and could go up to $15 per hour if approved in the next state budget, according to Blake.

“It’s just not a four-hour-a-day kind of thing,” Carter said, adding that drivers could work as many as six hours. “Because we have to run shuttles back and forth from the Early College to the Ninth Grade Academy, we have special education buses … so they’ve got a chance to do pretty well.”

Blake said the district has added as many bus classes as possible, which have to be scheduled through the N.C. School Bus Traffic and Safety trainer.

For those interested in driving a bus, the next class will be held Feb. 15-18. Instruction will run from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at the RCS Maintenance Building, 102 Sixth Street Safie in East Rockingham.

Potential drivers must be at least 18 years old and have been driving for at least six months.

They will also have to fill out an application under the Human Resources tab of the district’s website, richmond.k12.nc.us. A background check is required and applicants must register in the Clearing House database.

For more information on the bus classes or bus-related questions, call 910-997-9841.


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.