“We thought we were in pretty good shape this summer and then we just had some drivers who quit or decided they were not going to come back,” Paul Ramsey, city school system energy manager, said.
“We talked a couple from last year who were not coming back into returning. We have a very good staff, a very good crew. They care for kids.”
Bob True, director of maintenance and transportation, said a heart for kids is necessary for the job.
“When you are dealing with other people’s children you try to do the best you can,” True said.
“You have to be caring ... Patience is a virtue. That is definitely a quality you need to handle adverse situations. You are not only dealing with students, but traffic. It is a stressful job.”
True said the aforementioned qualities along with a personable nature and flexibility are looked for in potential drivers.
“Flexibility would be important with changes in routing, weather conditions, road and traffic conditions, and the students on the bus. You’ve got to be flexible,” True said.
Valerie Mack, transportation manager, said drivers arrive at the bus depot every week day morning around 6 a.m. Every driver conducts a pre-drive before leaving for their route. Pre-drives consist of checking their lights, stop signs, fuel lines, and brakes. Buses leave anywhere from 6:10 a.m. to 6:25 a.m. depending on the route. In the afternoon, normal route drivers return to work at 2 p.m and usually depart around 2:30 p.m. Special needs route drivers leave around 2 p.m. to pick up their students at 2:20 p.m.
There are 28 bus routes in the city school system. Nine of the routes are for special needs students.
Buses for special needs routes seat anywhere from 21 to 24 students, including wheelchairs. Transit and conventional buses used for the 19 regular routes seat 72. Full capacity would be three students per bench.
“It’s a tough job having 60 to 70 students in your backseat. Parents know having one or two or three in their backseat can be difficult,” Ramsey said.
“Our number one priority is always safety. Trying to pick up 60 to 70 kids every day and getting them back home again is a tough task. Our guys do a great job at that and we are proud of what they do.”
According to Mack, the number of students taking advantage of the school transit system has increased.
“Either enrollment has increased or the gas prices have discouraged school drop offs,” Mack said.
“We are looking to purchase a couple of new buses which would require more drivers.”
City school drivers currently have split runs on their routes. Mack said a split run consists of picking up half of the children on a route, dropping them off at school, and returning for the second half. An average load would be about 40 students in the first run and 50 in the second.
“There are a lot of things you need to learn about driving a bus,” Ramsey said. “There is a lot a driver needs to know, it’s not the easiest thing in the world.”
Drivers for the city school system work on average five days a week for four hours a day.
According to Ramsey, the average driver works anywhere from 20 to 23 hours a week. Bus drivers are paid roughly $67 a day for a total of $335 a week (based on the $67 calculation).
If a driver works the whole 177 days of school, then the estimated paycheck would be $11,859 before taxes.
“With our drivers, we do have an incentive program,” Ramsey said. “If they are here everyday with no accidents and they do not run out of gas, then they also receive a $150 bonus at the end of the month.”
Mack said a rough list of bus driver requirements consists of a Commercial Driver’s License with a Class B and a Passenger and School endorsement. A passenger endorsement will allow a driver to transport students. A school endorsement allows a driver to transport students in a school system. Additional requirements include a background check, a physical, and all applicable tests completed at the DMV.
“We pay for the physical, because I will not send a driver to get one unless I absolutely know we are going to hire them,” Mack said.
“The school system also pays for the background check.”
The transportation office will sometimes pay for applicants to receive training when they are in need of drivers. Mack said she has a trainer who will prepare applicants for their various road trip tests.
Ramsey encouraged parents to make sure their child knows his or her address.
“We are finding many students, even up to middle school, do not know their address. They are taken to their stop and when asked where they live many will say they do not know,” Ramsey said.
According to Ramsey, a child was detained on a bus the other day because she did not recognize any of her surroundings. He suggested parents take a walk with their child to make certain the child knows exactly how to get home.
“We have one phone line down here. I know it has been difficult for parents to get through. We are also looking for a better way to communicate with parents,” Ramsey said.
For more information concerning bus route information or bus driver applications, contact the Office of Maintenance and Transportation at 472-9576.