Bus drivers drive a hard bargain
When Centre schools couldn’t find bus drivers, the district increased pay to $35 an hour with at least four hours guaranteed each day.
Teachers at Peabody-Burns are pitching in to transport students to activities because of a bus driver shortage in that district.
Marion schools are staffed at the moment, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Area school districts are affected by lack of job applicants just as businesses are.
“We are doing well, but we are paying through the teeth as a result,” Centre superintendent Larry Geist said.
Last year, the district paid $20 an hour with a guarantee of two hours each in the mornings and afternoons.
“We went to $25 an hour and had no applicants. We ended up at $35 an hour … so my drivers are making $140 a day for just their routes,” Geist said.
He needed four drivers to start the year, and he has four plus three substitutes.
“I know once we got the pay up to where it is, we had applicants coming in one after another,” Geist said. “Unfortunately, we ended up stealing one from Herington, so that was a bad deal for them.”
Peabody-Burns has two drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Superintendent Antoinette Root would like to have at least one more plus a substitute driver to help with activities.
The district is supplementing its transportation program with vans.
“We are having teachers or other staff drive kids to different activities and educational places,” she said.
Peabody-Burns increased its driver pay a couple years ago but hasn’t lately. It pays rates on a daily per-trip basis. For example, up to 40 miles is $23.95; 41 to 55 miles is $31.86; 56 to 70 miles is $39.76; and 71 miles and more is $47.66.
Finding drivers can be tough, she said, and the position is unique.
“You are needed first thing in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon,” she said. “It is hard for someone who has a regular job to get off at the times we need them.
“Driving an activity bus means leaving in the afternoon and not getting back late at night for some trips. There is also a great deal of training to get a CDL (commercial driver’s license), and this intimidates people.”
At Marion schools, drivers are steady.
“Right now, we’re sitting pretty good,” said Quinn Trapp, who oversees the bus barn.
Districts look for common traits in drivers: dependability, good with children, and flexible.
“The strongest trait I look for is someone who can concentrate on driving while being distracted,” Geist said. “When I am riding with them, I talk to them a lot so they get used to the noise that they are going to have behind them and still pay attention to the road.”