Schools try to an­swer con­tin­u­ing de­mand for bus driv­ers

Dorchester Star - - NEWS - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

EAS­TON — Trans­port­ing chil­dren to and from school is both chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing, say Mid-Shore school dis­trict trans­porta­tion man­agers. And even with less than two months left in this school year, districts al­ways are on the look­out for school bus driv­ers.

Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools re­cently launched a pro­mo­tional cam­paign with ban­ners, fly­ers and ad­ver­tise­ments de­signed to en­tice driv­ers to hit the road on a big yel­low bus.

“We cur­rently have six bus driver va­can­cies,” TCPS trans­porta­tion and se­cu­rity man­ager David Stofa said. “Right now, we have other plant op­er­a­tions staff fill­ing in, but we need to grow our team so that we can con­tinue to pro­vide safe, qual­ity trans­porta­tion for our stu­dents.”

Dorch­ester County Pub­lic Schools trans­porta­tion man­ager Wil­liam Flem­ing said, “We’re in pretty good shape.” Al­though the dis­trict has in­ter­mit­tent short­ages, “we re­cently had a small in­flux of new driv­ers,” he said. “The same driv­ers stay for years.”

“Once they start driv­ing, our bus driv­ers usu­ally stay with us a long time,” said Mar­garet Ellen Kal­manow­icz, su­per­vi­sor of trans­porta­tion for Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic Schools.

Kal­manow­icz said with so many helped wanted signs crop­ping up in the area, it’s get­ting more chal­leng­ing at­tract­ing driv­ers.

“We seem to al­ways be ac­tively hir­ing,” she said. “But it’s not some­thing you can de­cide next week and say, ‘I’m go­ing to drive a bus.’”

The process re­quires a will­ing­ness to jump through a va­ri­ety of hoops — all of which fo­cus on keep­ing kids safe as they travel to and from schools, ath­letic events and on field trips, Kal­manow­icz said.

Prospec­tive bus driv­ers with Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools work with four train­ers to com­plete a nine-hour county cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course, Robert Jester said. Jester is CCPS su­per­vi­sor of trans­porta­tion.

Once they’re on the job, they take six hours of yearly con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses that cover top­ics like evac­u­a­tion drills, railroad cross­ings and dis­ci­pline, Jester said.

“Not every­one can han­dle 70 kids sit­ting be­hind them,” Jester said.

School bus driv­ers must have the tem­per­a­ment for the job, but they also must ful­fill other re­quire­ments.

Be­sides the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion, driv­ers can’t have more than two points on their li­cense. They have to pass a Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion phys­i­cal and a pre-em­ploy­ment drug test, un­dergo a back­ground test and sub­mit to quar­terly ran­dom drug tests once they’re em­ployed, Jester said.

Each day, Caro­line school bus driv­ers com­plete a 15-minute bus in­spec­tion be­fore they head out on the road, Jester said.

Caro­line County cur­rently has one open­ing for a full­time sub­sti­tute driver. Subs are trained just as full-time driv­ers are.

Be­ing a school bus driver “is a per­fect po­si­tion for younger re­tirees wish­ing to keep ac­tive and sup­ple­ment their in­come, in­di­vid­u­als work­ing on com­plet­ing their ed­u­ca­tion a lit­tle later in life, or par­ents wish­ing to be avail­able dur­ing the day for young chil­dren,” Stofa said.

De­pend­ing on the dis­trict’s model, county-based, as well as more for­mal train­ing pro­grams like those of­fered by Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege, pre­pare would-be bus driv­ers for their ca­reers.

Rita Mielke, skilled trades pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor for Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege, said the col­lege’s CDL Class B school bus li­cens­ing pro­gram has had a bus in its fleet since the be­gin­ning of its driver train­ing pro­gram.

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