After more than 10 years spent driving a school bus in Perrysburg, Herb Gatwood values the role he fills in students’ lives.
“I think every bus driver will at some point get to the realization that they’re having an impact on a child’s life,” he said.
But a shortage of drivers like Mr. Gatwood is prompting districts to seek creative solutions for getting qualified people behind the wheels of the iconic big yellow buses.
“Every school district in the country is short on school bus drivers, not just Perrysburg,” said Aura Norris, executive director of Human Resources and Operations for Perrysburg Schools.
The district, which has roughly 45 drivers each driving one route every morning and afternoon, has started hiring drivers to work as cafeteria monitors or in lunchroom food service to turn a part-time split shift into a full-time job with benefits.
This year is the first for Mr. Gatwood as a cafeteria monitor. He and one other person monitor some 200 students in the Hull Prairie Intermediate School lunchroom.
“Believe me, it’s actually a blast,” he said.
He thinks such combinations are the way forward for bus drivers, who have to go through extensive training to get a part-time split shift job.
“You’ve got to be cross trained,” he said. “If they’re a bus driver, they’re good with kids. They can be around children, they’ve got an FBI background check. They’re good people.”
There are eight drivers in Perrysburg doing multiple jobs for the district,
“We already know if they’re bus drivers for us that they like kids and they’re good at working with kids,” Ms. Norris said, adding that the program benefits the district as well. “We have an employee who’s more invested in the district.”
Toledo Public Schools brought bus transportation back to the district in 2015. James Gant, the director of operations for the district, said TPS is in better shape now than it was then, but it still does not have all the drivers it wants to have.
“I think it’s safe to say we struggle with that,” he said.
The district has 125 routes, and about 15 substitutes waiting to fill in for any driver missing time.
The district has reached out to parents and food service workers who might be interested in driving. It also pays for a portion of the required training for drivers. Every bus driver, permanent or substitute, must have a commercial driver’s license with specific endorsements to drive a school bus. They must also take a four-day class. Then, a driver can begin riding along on school buses before being fully certified.
Not every district is dealing with shortages, though. Maumee City Schools has only 18 drivers and routes, and nine drivers on the sub list. The district benefits from being small and compact, said Mary Bottoni, district supervisor of transportation.
“Our routes are kind of squished together,” she said.
Even so, she said she wants additional drivers on the roster who are ready to take over if needed.
“We’re always looking for people to train because you never know what will happen tomorrow,” she said.
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