District hikes family incentives for driving students to school

Because of the shortage of bus drivers, families who take their kids to school can earn $3,000 during the school year.—AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

A shortage of bus drivers is prompting the School District of Philadelphia to increase what it’s offering to pay families if they drive their children to school through the Parent Flat Rate program.

In a letter to families, Superintendent William Hite said the district is doubling its incentive for families who opt out of transportation service to $300 a month from $150. Under the new incentive, families who take their kids to school can earn $3,000 during the school year.

Families who take their kids to school in the mornings only, but still utilize school bus or cab service in the afternoons, can receive $150 per month, totaling $1,500 for the entire school year.

Students are required to attend 70% of their school’s instructional days for each given month. The program is only applicable through June.

The school district has a Google form sheet that families can fill out to enroll in the program.

“It has been exciting to have to have our young people back in school in person,” Hite wrote to parents.

“However, the driver shortage which is severely impacting schools, trash and food vendors and other companies across the nation coupled with a significant increase in resignations and retirements at the School District of Philadelphia and local garages have disrupted our operations beyond what we initially anticipated.”

The district will provide SEPTA Student Fare Cards to students who are normally eligible for bus, van or cab services.

District officials are in discussions with SEPTA about providing fare cards to adults who do not drive and would need to help students get to school by public transportation.

Hite said the district hired eight temporary staff members to better support the high volume of calls to the Transportation Call Center.

District officials are also meeting with external vendors and community partners to find solutions to the driver shortage.

In the letter, Hite also asked families to work together as a community to help address the bus driver shortage.

“You can help by ensuring that your child’s assigned school has your correct address and phone number on file which will support accurate pick up and drop off locations and allow us to contact you in the event of an emergency,” he said.

“Also, if you know of someone who could be a great bus driver candidate, please encourage them to apply,” he added.

Philadelphia is not the only school district grappling with a shortage of bus drivers. School districts across the country have been struggling to hire enough bus drivers coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in Philadelphia the problem is not only school bus transportation, but also trash collection at schools.

Hite said the school district is talking with other vendors about trash pickup solutions and has procured additional bulk dumpsters, placed at various sites throughout the city, for the purposes of collecting overflow trash and hauling it away more efficiently.

District officials have also reached out to the city to explore additional assistance, but the city is also experiencing delays with residential trash pickup due to the driver shortage.

“We realize that this driver shortage has very real consequences for our students, families and staff, and we sincerely apologize for these service disruptions,” Hite said.

“Please know that we are taking this matter very seriously and will continue to explore options until all excess trash is removed from our school sites and timely transportation services for our students are restored.”

chill@phillytrib.com. 215-893-5716

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