Parish working through bus driver shortage, parents upset with overcrowded buses
DENHAM SPRINGS - Livingston Parish Public Schools says it has a massive problem: there aren't enough bus drivers.
"It's a massive, massive problem that we have," said LPPS Asst. Superintendent Steve Parrill. "We're up 600 students. We're about past our pre-flood numbers and we're struggling with bus drivers."
At least one parent raised her concerns about her son's crowded school bus Tuesday. Crystal Wells says photos snapped on her son's bus show a safety issue.
"There's no space to even walk down the aisle because they have to sit in an aisle," said Wells. "They don't need to be unsafe on their ride to school."
The bus, on its way to Denham Springs High School, showed some students standing, some sitting in the aisle, and some three to a seat protruding out into the aisle.
It's a concern for Wells who says her son has a 30 minute trip to and from school and sometimes doesn't have a proper seat on the bus. Tuesday morning Wells says her son was on his bus and there was only room to stand. Wells says when her son asked to get off the bus, he was not allowed and instead went to the back door while the bus was stopped and exited.
She says her son has been told he can't ride the bus for the rest of the week, but the bigger picture needs to be addressed.
LPPS has seen the pictures and says while the bus does look crowded, it is not over capacity. But the situation where students are in the aisle could be prevented if there were more staff on hand.
"We don't have enough drivers now to meet the needs that we have, which means many of our drivers have to double up," said Parrill.
That's exactly what happened Tuesday morning. The parish is also struggling to find substitute drivers when one driver calls out sick. Other drivers end up working multiple routes and pick up extra students.
Parrill says bus driver salaries are competitive with other districts. First-year bus drivers make $18.78 an hour and work about 900 hours a school year which adds up to about $16,900 a year. Many drivers only work about five hours a day and collect benefits.
While bus capacity is 65 people, putting 65 high schoolers on a bus three to a seat with backpacks is going to get tight.
"It's just too many kids that are on the bus. It's not just my son's bus, it's other buses, and I don't want anyone to get hurt," said Wells.
LPPS says student safety and bus safety is very important but reiterates that the bus was not at capacity. It also says it doesn't know at what point of the route the photos were taken and can't comment much more without knowing about the context.