BUCKEYE, AZ — A planned field trip for a West Valley middle school was canceled hours before they were scheduled to leave because there wasn’t a school bus driver available.
The Transportation Administration of Arizona explains there’s no shortage of reasons for the bus driver shortage but one way to help retain drivers may be easier said than done - increase pay and benefits.
At the Buckeye home of Brandon Brown, he can literally hear all the hard work his student puts into perfecting the clarinet.
“I hear it evenings and weekends,” said Brown smiling.
Those long practice hours are shared by all the other Verrado Middle School band members.
Brown says for months the band was prepping to perform at the Maricopa County Fair.
“It builds a lifelong skill to have the confidence to be able to perform,” said Brown.
Then with just hours before they were scheduled to hop on a bus to showcase all that hard work - that bus never came.
An email sent to parents from the band director said in part, “I'm very sorry, but we were just informed that the field trip to the Maricopa County Fair tomorrow is canceled. The district is just too short on bus drivers to make the trip. We're very sorry it got this far before we knew it would not be possible. I'm sorry for any disappointment this may cause. We are disappointed too.”
Brown said he was heartbroken for his daughter.
“It hurt me because I knew how she was going to feel with three months of preparation for such a fun event, to have it swept right from underneath her at the last minute it’s a very hard conversation,” she said.
Mike Ajeman is the president of Transportation Administrators of Arizona.
He says key reasons for the shortage of bus drivers in the state boils down to not enough pay or benefits. When Arizona raised the minimum wage to over $12.80 an hour at the start of the year, Ajeman said many districts didn’t increase wages for school bus drivers as well.
He adds the “senior drivers” that once worked part-time didn’t come back after the initial COVID lockdown.
To be a certified bus driver in Arizona, he said drivers typically spend about three months just training before they get behind the wheel.
”Those demands have increased, the pay has not to meet those demands to get those quality people, driving buses,” said Ajeman.
The Litchfield School District sent a statement saying, “The national bus driver shortage has been a challenge all year. Increasing our driver pay to $20 per hour, plus benefits has dramatically minimized cancellations, though they still happen from time to time. We still need more drivers to fully reinstate field trips.
Brown says he’d like to work with other families to see if they can organize a way for the band to still perform at a community event.
Ajeman says what happening in our state is a reflection across the country.
“It is a career that is sought after, or could be sought after, let's treat it not as a part-time job, let’s treat it as a career,” said Ajeman.