Schools try to answer continuing demand for bus drivers
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.