Call it Covid, call it labor shortage, call it unemployment crisis, or something else, there are school districts across New Jersey that are struggling through a school bus driver shortage and they need help.

The Jackson Township Schools Board of Education recently voted to raise the base pay for school bus drivers from $22.67 to $30.00 an hour amid their own effort to hire 30 drivers.

Schools are trying to get crafty to solve the shortage.

Well, like Mrs. Doubtfire says "Help is on the way, dear! Help is on the way."

A trio of Jersey Shore legislators from the 30th District has come up with two bills that will bring help to school districts.

The first of the measures being introduced would "cut down on the time it takes to earn a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) with the additional “S” endorsement required to drive school buses."

This bill (S-2153) from Senator Robert Singer (R) and Assemblymen Sean Kean (R), and Ned Thomson (R), would authorize schools to administer the CDL exam and other services.

Their second bill (S-2152) would allow drivers with non-CDL licenses to transport students in Type S school buses, which they said can accommodate up to nine passengers.

“The bus driver scarcity is not going away on its own,” Senator Singer said in a written statement. “These bills will allow more drivers to qualify to transport students while maintaining the current high standards and safety. With these changes, school districts will be able to fill more routes, move more students, and more efficiently meet expectations. The dearth of bus drivers has been an ongoing problem for districts not only in New Jersey but across the nation. After meeting with school administrators from Howell, it is clear the labor shortage continues to impede efficient student transportation practices and that legislative action is necessary.”

“We need to streamline the process to license school bus drivers. The current process is not efficient and is one of the reasons schools are having such a difficult time finding drivers,” Assemblyman Kean said in a written statement. “Giving districts the opportunity to take on some of the load will cut down delays so new drivers can pass the written exam before taking the NJ MVC-administered road test.”

“Schools often have the need to transport small groups, or even a single student, to an event, a lesson, or a session,” Assemblyman Thomson said in a written statement. “These runs can be done in smaller vehicles, like SUVs that don’t require extensive CDL training. To operate a Type S school vehicle, drivers would qualify for completing less stringent instruction, relieving CDL-holders from routes that don’t require their special expertise.”

Naturally, the S stands for Senate, and as such two identical versions of those bills are being introduced in the Assembly, sponsored by Kean and Thomson.

Previous reporting by Dan Alexander was used in this article.

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