Houston-area school districts face major staffing shortages due to COVID

LA PORTE, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas school districts are bracing themselves for more COVID-19 challenges as they've seen issues pop up.

Parents in La Porte ISD are being encouraged to drive their kids to school thanks to a shortage of bus drivers. The district says the shortage is due to ongoing challenges related to the COVID pandemic.

La Porte ISD has just over 7,000 students, and Tuesday morning, some of them may have had trouble getting to school because of the shortage.

The district said Monday that, "Due to the COVID-19 challenges, La Porte ISD is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. There might be a delay in times that buses arrive to pick students up at their normal stops. We are encouraging parents to transport your child to their respective schools if possible."

According to the district's COVID dashboard, there are 138 active COVID-19 cases in the district. Of those active cases, 126 are students and 12 are staff.

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Watch as Skyeye13 flies over La Porte ISD, showing the buses that are not being used due to the lack of drivers available.



The statement went on to say that these delays may go on for the rest of the week, and their transportation department is working to alleviate the delays.

Parents are asked to keep checking the district's website for updates.

The announcement was posted to the district's Twitter account around 6:30 p.m. Monday, so it didn't give parents a lot of time to make alternative plans.


The following is the full statement released by La Porte ISD Tuesday:

Tuesday morning's bus routes went well, actually better than we had expected. Like most school districts in the greater Houston area, the La Porte Independent School District is experiencing a bus driver shortage due to various reasons related to COVID-19. We are working through these challenges, and we appreciate the patience and grace from our parents and stakeholders, who have given us one hundred percent support as we work through these challenges. The health and safety of our students and staff are always our number one priority. We continue to demonstrate our commitment to excellence and respect for our stakeholders. We are in constant communication with our parents and always striving to do what is best for the students that attend our schools.

Unfortunately, Houston ISD parents can also relate to the struggles as the district is also experiencing a shortage. During the first week of school, parents complained about long delays, and some buses not even showing up.

A working mother told ABC13 she cannot afford to drop her student off every day.

"I'm an hourly employee and I have to be at work if I'm going to support my family," the mother said. "I cannot keep doing this."

The district's action plan is to hire more drivers and also evaluate some of the bus routes, eliminating those that are not heavily used.

HISD drivers make $18 an hour. Those interested can apply on the district's website.

In a statement provided to Eyewitness News, HISD said it's working to address the shortage.

To address these challenges, the department is taking a two-pronged approach to continued recruitment and retention efforts combined with the ongoing route and ridership analysis.

We are in the process of reviewing existing routes and confirming ridership among eligible students, deleting unused routes and stops, which increases efficiency and decreases both the number of routes and drivers needed. We currently have 769 routes 18 down from the start of the school year. More decreases are expected.

We currently have 552 active, licensed drivers, all of whom are assigned to a permanent bus route. We have another 117 pre-hire candidates who are being evaluated as they complete their training and licensing tests. We are continuing to actively recruit candidates and hold monthly job fairs so that we can fill our remaining vacancies and build a pool of about 50 substitute drivers.


Aldine ATF president, Candis Houston, told ABC13 the challenges associated with the COVID pandemic remain constant. Houston said she wants the district to consider an online learning option. She said she's heard from members who are considering leaving the profession as a result of the continued challenges.

"It's going to get worse. I firmly believe we're going to have some type of virtual platform," said Houston. "Their classes are overcrowded, especially in elementary, because we have lost teachers during this pandemic."

Houston said teachers want to educate, in a safe environment.

"Let me be very clear, we as educators don't mind helping one another. We appreciate that our district is giving that incentive pay when they are holding someone else's class they're getting that incentive pay, but when is enough going to be enough? That's kind of where they are. Three weeks in, they're already tired," Houston said.

SEE ALSO:
Texas districts shut down in-person classes due to COVID-19 cases, affecting more than 40K students
ABC13 town hall to focus on rising COVID-19 cases in Houston-area schools
School districts continue to adapt with CDC's changing guidance in the midst of COVID surge
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