Ukiah Unified School District is, unfortunately, suffering from a commonly shared problem among school systems in our nation, that of which is a problematic shortage of student bus drivers. Because of this, UUSD (Ukiah Unified School District) can only provide sixteen of its usual twenty-plus bus routes, and there are only thirteen currently employed drivers when there should be twenty on staff.
We spoke with Doug Shald, the director of UUSD’s communications, and he told us the pandemic resulted in many bus drivers finding other jobs or retiring early leading to the current situation. He did note that UUSD did not furlough or lay off any bus drivers themselves.
The bus driver shortage, Shald explained, has been growing over the last decade but, “COVID has made it worse.”
To fill these employment gaps, Shald told us the district is offering potential new bus drivers an increase in salary, a $900 hiring bonus, and full-time employment. To attract potential drivers, Shald said, “Ukiah Unified has done extensive advertising and outreach to attract drivers like the billboard on the 101 north of town.”
Shald said the results of the shortage have been “tough on families who depend on our buses to get to school and we’re doing everything we can to hire new drivers.”
These shortages have been “very challenging” for our “current drivers and transportation staff who work tirelessly to make sure everyone gets to and from school,” Shald added.
We spoke with Sarah Dickson, a bus driver of two years who began around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She told us she “loves her job.”
She told us the longer shifts do not really affect her free time. Dickson continued by stating that she “has the middle of the day off”, allowing her to “book all my appointments” while working full-time.