Schools are open, but bus drivers are needed around the state to get students to school and back home. We believe the state needs to help people who are willing to get a commercial license to drive those buses.
Some of the bus drivers are people who have retired from their jobs only to find they needed the extra income or just want something to do to feel useful. But many of those drivers are of an age that puts them more at risk from COVID-19.
“Many of our bus drivers are in the high-risk categories,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the state School Boards Association. “A lot of them are retired teachers, administrators and support employees who have come back to drive a bus.”
But officials say the pandemic and a two-month wait to obtain the necessary commercial driver’s license is making things worse.
Tammy Bowler, president of the Oklahoma Association for Pupil Transportation, said there’s been a decline in the number of people willing to drive this year.
More districts are trying to train new drivers, but Bowler said a two-month wait to get commercial driver’s license permits at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is only exacerbating district woes. Most years, anyone can walk into a DPS office and get tested within an hour or two, she said. Not now.
“When you put on the table that you’ve lost drivers due to the fear factor of the pandemic, and that you can’t even get a driver with the permit in their hand to start driving, then here we go, we’re just building up that bottleneck again,” Bowler said.
We know that getting Real ID up and running has created some delays, but the state should find a way to get commercial driver’s licenses into the hands of those willing and qualified to drive.
The number of employees at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has been reduced, which is a big problem on any day. The state needs to step up and find a way to pay for additional employees for the department.