From the Daily Independent
By Mike James
The wheels on the bus go round and round, but only if there’s a driver behind the wheel, and finding enough drivers is a perennial problem for school districts in Northeast Kentucky.
It’s a problem in both city and rural districts, according to school transportation officials.
While there are enough drivers to put all the buses on the road, the pinch comes in adding enough substitutes to the roster to cover for sick calls, personal days and the like.
Children will still get to school in the morning and home in the afternoon, officials hasten to say, but when there aren’t enough substitutes, some kids may get home later.
“We have enough to start the year, but we’re praying to get subs, because the problem comes if a driver calls in sick or has an emergency there are no backups,” said Ashland transportation director Mac McDonald.
When that happens, one or more drivers may drive a second route, which means children from the second route have to wait at school until the first is completed and the driver returns for them.
That happened a handful of times last year, and in the worst couple of cases, children didn’t get home until about 6 p.m., McDonald said.
Road construction added to those delays, but that didn’t mollify angry parents. “Parents were irate but there was nothing we could do,” he said.
“I had just enough drivers today to run our buses. If anyone had called off, I’d have had to drive, ”Greenup County transportation director Jack McCleese said.
To ease the pinch, McCleese has four drivers in training as the school year begins, and in three weeks they should be available for permanent substitute work.
Boyd County also has enough drivers to start the year but transportation director Cheryl Caldwell said she is actively seeking substitutes.
“Without enough drivers, if someone is off sick or takes a personal day it can be hard to get the shift filled,” Caldwell said.
The nature of the work makes it hard to find subs, according to Caldwell. The work is part-time, although Boyd drivers get full-time benefits. Most people want to work more than four hours a day and more than the 181 days per year that are in the school calendar.
Drivers can earn additional money by taking extra runs as available, such as to ball games and events, McCleese said. Most of those are in the evening, however. A couple of his drivers also mow grass for the district to augment their income.
“Our pay is a little more than the districts around us but at four hours a day it’s not a living wage," ”he said.
One partial solution is to have other workers with the certification and training to fill in. That’s how the Russell Independent district fills the gaps, according to transportation director David Trimble.
The district has two full-time substitutes, but sometimes that’s not enough, he said. It also has three part-time subs, but they are not always available.
Combining two busloads into one route won’t work because although the district is small in area, it has a lot of students so buses generally are full.
For those times, the district’s mechanics can take the wheel, because they are fully trained and have commercial driver’s licenses, he said.
Corralling enough drivers amounts to a significant management headache, one transportation managers have to contend with at all times, McCleese said. “It’s one of the most difficult things about the transportation department. It’s all about putting hind ends in seats.”
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