As kids head back to school, while some school districts are being forced to cancel classes, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) has come up with a novel idea to combat the nationwide school bus driver shortage: pay the parents.
Under the new pilot, Parent Flat Rate Program, if parents have opted out of SDP transportation options, “[a]ll registered families will receive $300 per month ($3,000 for the school year) for transporting their child to and from school.”
They’re also offering another option if you only want to be responsible for one way, and those families are eligible “to receive $150 per month ($1,500 for the school year) to transport their child to school in the morning but still utilize bus, van, or cab service in the afternoon.”
Families can apply for the program via the SDP website.
In a letter sent out districtwide earlier this week, Superintendent William Hite said that the bus shortage in the country along with “a significant increase in resignations and retirements at SDP and local garages, have disrupted our operations beyond what we initially anticipated.”
Hite also told families that the “tiered transportation model that the district implemented to deal with the driver shortage has not been enough.”
In the interim, the SDP is also providing SEPTA Student Fare Cards to eligible students and is in talks with SEPTA about the possibility of offering SEPTA Fare Cards to the adults in families who do not drive.
For students with special needs, the SDP is prioritizing transportation requests “and is meeting with external vendors and community partners.”
“We realize that this driver shortage has very real consequences for our students, families and staff, and we sincerely apologize for these service disruptions. Please know that we are taking this matter very seriously, and will continue to explore options until…timely transportation services for our students are restored,” said Hite.
Monique Braxton, a spokesperson for the district said, “I think it’s significant because it can help the family,” continuing, “Say that your children are attending a school that’s on your way to work; it’s a win-win.”
An SDP parent Nakeesa Greene, is excited about the new initiative given the rising cost of gas, saying “It’s all helping out. Teamwork, teamwork, getting these kids to school, I’m all for it.”
Presently, there are 210 bus drivers currently employed by the SDP, and they are looking to fill 105 vacancies. In an effort to fill the openings as quickly as possible, “[t]hey’re trying to entice more drivers to apply with higher pay and paid training to get a CDL.”
Per the SDP, trainees will be paid upwards of $18,000 annually with full-time drivers at almost $45,000 and part-time drivers making more than $23,000.
What are other districts’ solutions to school transportation issues because of the scarcity of bus drivers?
In Chicago, families “have also been offered a stipend to take their kids to school. In Massachusetts, hundreds of National Guard members have been called in to help.”