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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Bus drivers get in gear

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

During the summer, Sean McCarthy is known as Captain McCarthy aboard the Arawanna II, a tour boat he owns and operates along the Maumee River. But next week, aboard a 40-foot-long yellow dry-land vehicle, he will be called “Mr. Sean” by elementary school children.

Mr. McCarthy, an eight-year bus driver for the Toledo Public Schools system, likens the transition from summer to school to “recharging my batteries.”

“It's a matter of getting back into that routine,” he said.

That routine will include getting back into the swing of early-morning alarms, being a defensive driver, numerous transportation rules and signals, and most of all, the sound of children laughing and chattering

He says driving a school bus is an awesome, noble task, and one that he and other bus drivers say they look forward to at the close of the summer season.

“I really do miss the kids, and I've been lucky to have some of the same [routes] every year,” said Mr. McCarthy, who drives students from schools such as Grove Patterson, St. Patrick's of Heatherdowns, and Glendale Fielbach.

Joe Kahl, director of transportation for TPS, said while bus drivers are preparing to get back into gear, there are a host of safety measures that have to be performed before buses can be driven out of the bus yard.

Mr. Kahl added that mandatory state-regulated safety meetings, and in-service training are required of all bus drivers prior to getting behind the wheel.

Brad Aemisegger, acting operations manager for the system's transportation department, said Toledo's some 160 drivers all hold a special classification driver's license, similar to the one held by truck drivers. The license must be renewed every four years and drivers' personal driving records are scrutinized by the school board and the district's insurance company.

He added that TPS bus drivers work a variety of shifts, from four to eight hours per day, and earn $13.60 an hour starting out; after more than two years they can earn $16.54 per hour.

Mr. McCarthy, who holds a transportation management degree from the University of Toledo, said making the transition from being a captain on water to the sole authority figure for students during a bus ride on land is not extremely difficult.

“I'm ready to gear down the boat and gear up back to driving the bus,” said Mr. McCarthy, who will have an “early-bird” route, beginning his days around 6 a.m. with between 30 to 50 students in his care.

For Cindy Cherry, a substitute driver for the Maumee and Springfield school districts, getting back into her bus driving routine means getting to bed about three hours earlier each night.

“Because I'm a substitute I might get called at 5:30 a.m. to be at the bus yard by 6 a.m., so I have to make sure just in case that I'm well-rested, “ said Mrs. Cherry, who might be called during the school year to drive a variety of routes with students aboard who range in age from kindergarten through 12th-grade.

“During the summer I usually go to bed around midnight, but during the school season it's about 9 or 9:30 p.m.,” she added.

Mrs. Cherry, a mother of an 18 and 21-year-old, said other than changing her sleep routine, she tries to keep an upbeat attitude and an open-mind during the school season.

“I like the challenge and driving and I like working with the kids. . . . It's a big responsibility. I don't think most people know how much the bus drivers should earn our respect,” said Mrs. Cherry.



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