ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Legislative changes could be the answer to the ongoing school bus driver shortage, at least that’s what Albemarle County Public Schools hopes.
“This is not just a central Virginia problem, it’s a statewide problem, but they had this idea to fix it” 58th District Delegate Rob Bell (R) said.
Albemarle County schools came to Del. Bell and 25th District Senator Creigh Deeds (D) seeking solutions.
“I’m glad it’s bipartisan, it’s not even really political, it is something that is just a coordinate that our community has right now,” School Board Vice Chair Katrina Callsen said. “We realized that a lot of bus drivers want to come back, they’ve retired, and they’re willing to come back and help out when we’re in this time of need, but they’re unable to do so and still access the retirement benefits.”
There is a 12-month mandatory waiting period before those drivers can come back and work for the district. This is the work from legislation previously passed to fix the shortage. It helped, but not enough.
“There’s a federal fairly complicated federal overlay about a Bonafide break and service that they that ERISA law requires. This is all very innovative and novel, and everybody knew how it worked, it’s just limiting the pool,” Del. Bell said.
Proposed legislation would shorten that to three months. It is only for former drivers to join the staff, which ACPS sees as safe since they have they all have their CDL. Del. Bell says retirees are going to seek part-time jobs to maintain more income anyways, so why not it be with the district when it is in need.
“We passed the bill a couple of years ago that said if you take a year off - so a year between your retirement date and your rehire date - we can have a set of special exceptions that will allow you to do that. They say that helped, but there’s another population that is not through with its year,” Del. Bell said.
“We think that that will get us about 15, access to 15 more bus drivers. So, cutting our shortage in half. It’s a big deal,” Callsen said.
Callsen says the district’s director of transportation has been in contact with those drivers who are ready to return.
“There is the potential to amend or draft the bill in such a way that any retired school division employee could come back,” she said.
This proposed bill is only for emergency use, and ACPS qualifies right now since it is down around 30 drivers.
“The goal here would be someone has retired, they may be getting their retirement pay, and you want to set up a structure where it’s not disincentivized, and they’re going to work somewhere. Why don’t they work in a job that they want to do and that we need them in?” Del. Bell said.
If the bill passes, it will bring relief for the next school year, as the law would not go into effect before the end of the 2022-2023 year.