Every year, school bus drivers are in short supply, not only in Lincoln County, but in every surrounding county, as well, according to Keith Gill, Lincoln County Schools’ transportation supervisor.
Lincoln County Department of Education has been advertising for bus drivers to fill the void now being covered temporarily by Gill and employees/driver subs in the bus garage.
Gill has been supervisor for 10 years and previously was an administrator for 18 years. He says the shortage is universal and happens nearly every year. Currently, the system has 53 drivers, but they need 55. Fifty drivers pick up students on regular routes throughout the county, and five drivers transport special needs children.
“We’re looking for some fine folks to take care of our number one cargo,” said Gill with a smile.
While most bus drivers work approximately three hours per day, 185 days per year, they make an average of $21 per hour, or equal to about $11,500 per year. Many of the drivers are retired from successful careers; other drivers hold another part-time job or are self-employed.
“Our saving grace is retired individuals,” said Gill.
Quite a few drivers are farmers, teachers, teacher’s aides or cafeteria workers. In fact, one-third of the staff comes from existing employees.
Opportunities exist for drivers who want to work more hours by driving for school athletic trips, field trips and other special events.
Instead of having to drive to the bus garage to start their buses in the morning, drivers may take the buses home with them, so they save gas driving to and from work, and the school system saves money on gas, as well.
When possible, Gill tries to give drivers a route close to their home. That way, the driver is more familiar with the area and knows some of the families on the route.
So why the shortage?
Gill explained that some people might feel that they will be intimidated by the kids or may be afraid of liability issues. Potential bus drivers, though, receive thorough training, not only concerning bus safety, but receive advice on how to verbally discipline a disruptive child.
In recent years, technology has helped bus drivers discern which students might need some correction. Each county bus is outfitted with six cameras. Unruly students are caught in the action on video and are dealt with by the child’s school principal. And, once Gill and the principal review the video, the parents are notified.
On their first offense, the child receives a warning; second offense, the student cannot ride the bus for one week; the third offense, the child cannot ride the bus for two weeks; and if there is a fourth offense, the student is off the bus for the remainder of the year.
“Several drivers of other systems were very complimentary of our students and the support of our administrators,” said Gill.
One bus driver, Serge Kawiecki, has been a driver for the county for 37 years. He is now driving the grandchildren of some of the students with whom he started.
“We have several with quite a few years,” noted Gill.
Some of the requirements for a driver include getting a Class B CDL; having passenger, air brake and school bus endorsements; taking a physical exam, a written test and driving test; and undergoing a background check and drug test. Drivers must also be at least 25 years old.
Then, they are familiarized with safety features, have practice driving and ride with experienced drivers.
“They watch how drivers handle students and situations before they’re turned loose,” said Gill.
Training may take one to two months, depending on the individual in training.
For more information about becoming a bus driver, call Gill or Roxanne Thomas at 433-5733.