School district struggles to find bus drivers

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Driver shortage cuts down on activity trips

By Bennett Horne

A shortage of bus drivers is something school districts all across America face on an annual basis. So the Los Alamos school district, which is struggling to find enough drivers, is not alone.

That doesn’t make the issue any less troublesome, though, and making it worse is the fact the driver deficit is beginning to cut into the number of activity trips the district’s schools might usually take.

“We need to have one driver for every route and right now we’re running substitutes on three of our routes,” said Los Alamos Public Schools Director of Facilities and Transportation Keith Rosenbaum, who is in charge of the district’s 16 bus routes. “This year we have had to begin denying schools extra activities because we don’t have enough to do what is required by the state, which is to transport students to and from school. The activity trips are a bonus. They give the drivers a little bit of extra money but they also give the students extra educational opportunities for them to go on trips.

“It’s difficult to say ‘No,’” he said, “but sometimes we have to.”

Rosenbaum said the district needs one driver for each route, with substitutes then being able to step in for the regular drivers when they need to drive a bus for an activity trip.

“If we could get those three routes filled with permanent drivers then we would be in a position where we could use the substitutes and be able to do more activity trips,’ he said. “Then we would have substitutes to cover for those regular drivers when they are out doing activities.”

Individuals interested in becoming a driver must first start the process to obtaining the commercial driver’s license needed to drive a school bus by filling out an application on the district’s website.

“Because we are commercial drivers we have to have a commercial driver’s license,” Rosenbaum said. “There’s a physical that’s required and we are required by law to be under random drug testing. But being able to pass the physical is one of the most important things. There are health issues – like diabetes, or if they have seizures or a heart condition, those kinds of things – that automatically disqualify someone from getting their commercial driver’s license.”

The next step in the process is a face-to-face interview, followed by finger printing, a background check and then testing and training.

“We train every aspect and we do our testing in-house, too,” he said. “We have somebody who is certified in commercial driver’s license testing and we have trainers who prepare people to be successful on the bus. That includes not only the driving, but also the passenger management. We train all of that so that when somebody gets on the bus it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is all brand new.’”

Trainees receive 40 hours of training to ensure that when they get onto the school bus to drive the first day of their route they have all the knowledge, ability and the skills to complete the task safely.

By that point they’ve also done ride-a-longs with their trainers, which apparently resemble nothing like a Sunday drive through the countryside.

“Our trainers are now doing what they can to distract them while they’re in the bus so that they’re paying more attention to what’s going on inside the bus,” Rosenbaum said.

Trainees get paid at a rate of $12.50 an hour during the training process. If they take a route the pay increases to just over $18 an hour. Average routes run about four hours a day for an approximate 20-hour week.

“It’s a well-paying part-time job,” Rosenbaum said. “And anybody over 15 hours has the opportunity for benefits.”
Drivers must accumulate 100 hours of bus time and go through an extra six hours of training before being eligible to drive on an activity trip.