Need for school bus drivers is critical in Aberdeen and Hoquiam

For anyone who ever rode a school bus to and from school, the trips were a safe, convenient and consistent way to get back and forth. The buses and drivers were something parents, students and teachers could rely on daily — kind of like those deliciously dry lunches in the cafeteria around noon.

But in Aberdeen and Hoquiam there is no guarantee that a school bus will be able to run certain routes, largely because there aren’t enough people to drive the buses. And that’s not only unacceptable, it’s a crying shame for all involved.

Exacerbating the issue is the shortage of school bus drivers has led to other staffers being diverted from assigned duties in order to fill in the gaps in scheduling.

Hoquiam School District Superintendent Mike Villareal told The Daily World earlier this week that the school year started with a shortage of workers in Hoquiam.

“We’ve been lacking in positions across the board — teachers, custodial and maintenance workers, and on top of that, transportation,” Villareal said. “We were able to launch, you know, get off the ground, but it’s caused a stress across the system, whether it’s teaching, getting the buildings cleaned, and even getting our kids to school.”

For those keeping score, as of this week there were eight open bus routes between the Aberdeen and Hoquiam school districts that need to be filled “and that’s just a minimum to kind of get us back on float,” Villareal said.

The school buses in both districts are housed in Hoquiam and run as a cooperative, which is overseen by Transportation Supervisor Ernie Lott. He said in normal times, full capacity, there would be 17 drivers in Aberdeen and 11 drivers in Hoquiam.

Well these are far from normal times — the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc — and that has forced the school districts and their employees to make adjustments on the fly.

Fortunately, Lott and his mechanics each have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), so they can fill in as needed. But, again, that takes away from their other duties. The mechanics not only maintain buses in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, but other districts as well.

“They’re doing a morning route or an evening route, and maybe even some midday routes to cover, and we’re really at the point now where we can’t do that,” Villareal said.

“If somebody else goes down, we’re talking about delayed routes; maybe we run around and pick up kids, and the next route goes out and picks them up and they start an hour, two hours late.”

But that’s where the districts are at now. Should things get worse, such as the driver shortage becoming more critical, then tougher measures could be taken. That includes not being able to service a route and relying on parents to get their children to school.

Aberdeen School District Superintendent Alicia Henderson said should certain routes need to be cut, the notification time would be short.

“It’s impossible to know in advance what a delay or cancellation will look like,” said Henderson to The Daily World earlier this week. “As with a weather delay, the decision will be made the night before or as soon as possible in the morning.”

That would not leave much time for parents and students to adjust. And that could also lead to students losing valuable time in the classroom, particularly after last year’s online learning model kept them out.

Local school district employees are doing everything they can to ensure students make it to school on time each day. But they need and deserve our help.

So if there is anyone out there interested in driving a bus or working as a mechanic, then we would encourage y’all to apply for a position at the following website —