New York bus driver shortage leaves ‘razor-thin’ margin for error at schools

Erie County

DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB) — For most of the students in western New York, Wednesday was their first day back in class after a long summer. But getting there was half the battle, especially with a severe shortage of school bus drivers.

“I love these kids. I got 73 grandchildren,” said Julian Scretchen, who has driven a bus for 18 first days of school. He said that so many parents drove their kids to school that the buses had a hard timing getting where they needed to go. “It was raining and it was crowded,” he said. “I sat in one place trying to get out for an hour.”

Julian drives for WNY Bus Co., which shuttles students in 11 districts including Lancaster, Depew, and Lackawanna. The general manager of the bus company, Igor Finkelstein, said he’s paying up to $25 an hour, but still can’t find enough drivers. “Amazon internet sales, trucking companies, old home goods, deliveries are pushing drivers away from the school bus industries.”

Late Wednesday, the Amherst Central School District alerted parents that buses were running 30 minutes behind in transporting students back home. Frontier School superintendent Christopher Swiatek said there is currently a “razor-thin” margin for error when it comes to the busing situation. But he also said that the district is doing everything possible to keep it from getting worse.

“We’re all hanging tough. I think everybody’s been innovative in reaching their own solution based on their circumstances,” said Michael Cornell, superintendent of Hamburg Central Schools. “We were short a couple of drivers and we have mechanics who were able to also drive. So, we had some mechanics driving this morning.”

“Parents, your children are in good hands,” said Finkelstein, who ultimately manages more than 220 school buses across western New York. “Our drivers are good, professional. Some of them do it for 25 years plus. Please be patient with us. It takes a couple of days. Our drivers will get familiar with the students. Students will get familiar with their routes, and everything is gonna go back to normal.”

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