Grady Co. Schools navigates bus driver shortage

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Published: Aug. 6, 2022 at 9:24 PM EDT
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CAIRO, Ga. (WALB) - Grady County Schools has a new superintendent, Dr. Eric McFee.

With that comes new goals. One of them is to prepare its students for the workforce. McFee said that it is the school district’s objective to make their kids able to fit the jobs available in Grady County.

Students walk into Washington Middle School for their open house
Students walk into Washington Middle School for their open house(WALB)

Before any of that, they will have to get on the bus. McFee’s primary goal is making sure all kids can get safely to school. An ongoing shortage of bus drivers is changing how school might run.

“It’s hard to fill bus drivers positions. As fast as we train them we lose them,” McFee said.

The way to fix it isn’t as simple as throwing money at it, according to McFee.

“It’s great for my employees. Yes, I want everyone to get paid, but it also comes with more pain,” McFee said.

He said raising pay as an incentive might only result in a higher budget, which may end up in higher taxes.

McFee has contacted other counties schools that have shortages (which is almost every district). Increased pay has not increased their number of applicants. Those who apply aren’t always qualified

“A DUI sometimes maybe you can overlook as a cafeteria worker, but you can’t overlook it if you’re driving a bus where children are going to be going,” McFee said.

The school district has 4600 kids, and some live on rural roads, making route efficiency tough to tackle. A solution he’s been weighing is starting schools at different times

“Are you going to get your middle schoolers who are your preteens and tell them they have to wake up and get ready and go to school with nobody there to push them out the door?” McFee said.

McFee said his last resort is not providing transportation to children who live within a mile of school, something Georgia law allows him to do.

In the meantime, community members and substitute teachers have been willing to step up and fill certain routes. Sometimes they can go only on certain days but McFee doesn’t want to rely on their availability.

Students come back on August 8th
Students come back on August 8th(WALB)

“We need a consistent one of us who is riding the bus every day, who has a route, who knows those kids,” McFee said.

In the short term, McFee said there may be times where parents are forced to drive their kids.

McFee said one of his other goals is to get Grady counties test scores competitive with nearby school districts

“Our children are just as smart, just as bright, just as talented, just as eager and happy as any other children and surrounding counties or any other county, or in the state. We have enough of the tools and hands to make sure our kids are performing the same as any other kids,” McFee said.

His next focus is the school district’s strategic plan. McFee is encouraging families to share their input for the plan starting in September.

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