Empty drivers’ seats
School district scrambles to find bus drivers to cover routesBy Deb Hadachek Belleville Telescope editor
The driver sitting behind the wheel of a school bus often gets little notice, says USD 109 Transportation director Mark VanNortwick.
But the day in, day out interaction with students has more impact on their lives than people sometimes realize.
“I still have relationships with kids that rode my bus when I first started driving, even now that they’re adults,” VanNortwick says.
Finding applicants for school bus route positions has always been a struggle, and is a struggle for most districts, he says. “It’s the number one topic at any school transportation meeting I go to.”
But with three driving positions open–and no responses to help wanted advertisements- -VanNortwick wants to raise awareness not only of the benefits of the job–but the potential costs to the district if the positions can’t be filled.
“In my mind this is the perfect job who for someone who wants the same schedule as their kids who are in school,” he says. Route drivers are paid $13.36 per hour and guaranteed 20 hours a week, he said, two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon. Drivers also qualify for KPERS.
USD 109 operates seven routes a day that cover 3,200 miles each week.
All a potential applicant needsis a valid drivers license and a clean driving record, VanNortwick says. The school district takes care of the training and expenses for drivers to receive their commercial drivers licenses (CDL), first aid, CPR and defensive driving courses.
VanNortwick says he worries some people are intimidated by the thought of the training. “I’ve never had an applicant who was serious about the job not be successful at getting qualified to drive,” he said. “We provide a lot of support.”
State statutes require that a school district must provide students a way to and from school, VanNortwick says.
This can be accomplished by using the school bus or paying parents mileage to bring their children to school.
“The economy makes it to where both parents have to work and it would be a hardship on many if the bus didn’t pick up their children,” he says.
To further combine existing routes would mean some children would get on the bus at 6:30 a.m. to be at school by 8 a.m., he says.
“I don’t find that acceptable, and I don’t think parents would either,” he says.
Right now, the district is adjusting schedules so some paraprofessionals and maintenance employees can drive routes, he says.
“Yellow school buses are the safest mode of transportation in the country,” he adds, noting the special construction features that give children added protection in the event of accidents.
“School bus drivers are one of the most important parts of a student’s education,” he adds.
“Drivers, for many, are the first and last person a child sees in a school day.
“A driver can get their day started with a smile, and if a student has had a bad day at school, that driver can end their day giving them a smile.
“I know personally when I see past students that I transported they like to stop and tell me of memories they had riding my bus. It truly is a blessing to still have that contact with them and the fact they remember those bus rides.”