Camden City School District will have enough buses and drivers for the 2022-23 school year

After last year’s national school bus driver shortage, the Camden School District has leased a fleet of school buses and hired local residents to help transport students for the 2022-23 school year.

That achievement, in combination with its early bids for bus routes with outside vendors, means the South Jersey district will be able to provide transportation for all eligible students come the first day of school, said Superintendent Katrina McCombs, about 4,000 kids enrolled in traditional district schools as well as charter and Renaissance schools.

“Everyone has a seat on the bus,” McCombs said in an interview last week.

Last year, the Camden school system had to notify about 850 families that they would not receive transportation services at the start of the school year. Some other districts, including Deptford and Glassboro, canceled routes or changed school schedules to give drivers time to make multiple pickups. There were complaints about students being left behind or arriving late to school.

The Philadelphia School District changed start and end times last year to standardize bus routes, too, shifting some high schoolers’ schedule by two hours.

» READ MORE: Philly’s bus driver shortage is now ‘a crisis’

To alleviate its driver shortage, Camden implemented a two-tier schedule based on geography to expedite bus routes. Even with the changes, Camden was unable to provide bus transportation to about 500 eligible students, the district said. The shortage left families scrambling to alter work schedules or arrange child care.

Those families ended up walking, driving, carpooling, or using Uber or Lyft rides. The district obtained state approval to lower the required insurance liability from $1 million to $15,000 to enable more parents to legally assume responsibility to drive their children to school.

The state Department of Education also allowed Camden to provide remote instruction to the 60 to 65 students who were not going to school because of a lack of transportation. Camden was among the last districts to fully reopen last year.

Unlike last year when it relied solely on outside transportation companies, this year, the district will use its own fleet as well as the outside vendors to transport the bulk of its eligible students across the city, said spokesperson Sheena Yera. The district submitted bus bids earlier than usual, she said.

Yera said the district also spent $685,000 to lease a fleet of 12 buses for the next four years, which the district expects will save about $2 million in transportation costs.

» READ MORE: Electric school buses are coming to the Philly School District

The district has hired 12 drivers with a pool of four additional candidates who will undergo district training to obtain their commercial driver’s license, McCombs said. One-third are city residents, Yera said.

McCombs said the district is also seeking to fill 43 teacher vacancies before schools open Sept. 8. Camden currently has a 5% vacancy rate and especially needs special-education and chemistry teachers, she said.


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