ELK GROVE, Calif. (KTXL) — As the Elk Grove Unified School District welcomed back students Thursday, the district is still looking for bus drivers, as it has a shortage for the 2022-23 school year. 

The district currently has 130 bus drivers, a decrease of 17 from last year, EGUSD spokesperson Xanthi Soriano told FOX40 in a phone interview Thursday. The number of bus drivers has fluctuated in recent years from 144 in 2018, to 127 in 2019, increased to 149 in 2020, and went slightly down in 2021 to 147.

Soriano said the ideal number of bus drivers for the district is around 160-165.

“These past years have been some of the most difficult times when it comes to the bus shortages and it’s not because of the lack of drivers,” Soriano said. “We’ve had an increase in the student population, especially in our special education student population and that plays a significant role in how many routes we have to offer.” 

“There are certain mandates or routes that we are required to provide so an increase in student population where we’re required to provide transportation makes it extremely difficult for us, but we’re meeting that challenge with the drivers that we have,” Soriano continued. “We want to make sure that we can meet the challenges for transportation for all of our routes and make sure we’re all on time.”

EGUSD is the fifth-largest school district in California with 68 schools, including 43 elementary schools, nine middle schools and nine high schools. 

For the first day of classes Thursday, some EGUSD schools had different start times that are later than usual, due to a new California law that went into effect July 1. Some schools started at 10 a.m. while others started at 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., according to Soriano.

Soriano said the change impacts other extracurricular activities, but there were no delays due to the shortage to her knowledge. 

“Schools were being mindful of that of cascading start times so we can make sure that kids are arriving on time for school and able to get there for these first critical couple of days,” Soriano said. “So that was very helpful. Everybody was sort of doing their part to make sure they were thinking of transportation issues.”

As for the district’s current recruiting efforts, Soriano said more bus drivers could be on the way, as prospective drivers are going through training.

There’s a class with about 25 people going through training, with four of those recruits being close to full certification, and they are in the process of behind-the-wheel training.

In an effort to recruit bus drivers, the EGUSD school board approved a salary increase for bus drivers in June. The new salary range is $22.49 to $30.55 per hour. Substitute drivers can earn $21 per hour and trainee bus drivers can earn $15 per hour. 

The current salary increase is approved through June 30, 2024.

“Bus drivers are a critical component for students when it comes to transportation needs that have from home to school, make sure we have drivers to cover all of our routes is critical,” Soriano said.