Wilson County sees school bus overcrowding amid growth, driver shortage

(Photo: WKRN)

WILSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Angry parents are calling Wilson County Schools to complain about their children’s school buses.

Parents have called about late buses, buses that never arrived, and overcrowded buses during the first week of school.

On Monday, a student took a quick video of a bus heading to the Spence Creek neighborhood from West Wilson Middle School.

It showed students barely in their seats and students spilling into the aisles.

“I think it’s unsafe,” said dad Jesse Fuller. His children didn’t shoot the video but they ride the same bus shown in the video. “Three to a seat is unnecessary.”

(Photo: WKRN)

Wilson County Schools told News 2 three students to a seat is not illegal, but it’s not ideal.

“When you have elementary school students and you put three in a seat it’s not that big of a deal,” said schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson. “When it gets to the middle school level and we have to do that, they end up crowded. It’s not what we want to see.”

Other middle schoolers who ride that bus, No. 1547, say students often can’t fit in the seats.

“Today I was sitting on the outside so I was basically all in the way of the aisle,” said eighth-grader Nataly Perez-Hernandez. “I’m completely in the aisle so if anything were to happen, I have nothing holding me from going forward.”

“This has been happening for two years and it’s just getting worse because more people are moving into the neighborhood,” said middle-schooler Mykala Judice.

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Johnson says on the day the video was shot, there were 76 students on the bus. The maximum capacity is 90.

She says the district needs six more drivers to accommodate six new routes including for West Wilson Middle, Lebanon High School, Springdale Elementary, Wilson County High, West Elementary and Rutland Elementary.

(Photo: WKRN)

Johnson says the school board has asked the county commission to approve a two-dollar-per-hour pay raise for bus drivers in the hopes of recruiting more candidates.

“Frankly we don’t know if that’s even going to work,” she told News 2. “A lot of people don’t want that responsibility, fail the drug test or can’t pass the criminal background check. There’s a myriad of reasons why we’re in this position and a lot of school districts are.”

As for parents complaining about late pick-ups and arrivals, Johnson said, “the beginning of the school year is always the roughest because these are new routes and a lot of the drivers are brand new.”

Parents are also complaining their children weren’t picked up at all. Johnson says those are often new students whose parents didn’t realize they have to register to ride the school bus when they register for school.

Or, a neighborhood is so new it doesn’t show up in the bus GPS.

“What we have to do is go in and manually draw those streets and place those kids,” Johnson said. “It’s a growing pain.”