Forty-seven routes transporting just less than 5,000 students is all in a day’s work for bus drivers and aides for the Dysart Unified School District.
There are also 45 routes for Exceptional Students Services throughout the district, with close to 600 kids taking part in the programs.
District Transportation Director Richard Moore said the district has 99 bus drivers currently on staff along with 46 bus aides, who are also on the bus to work with drivers on the special needs buses. The aides assist with kids who are not ambulatory or use adaptive devices and need help getting on and off the bus.
“We do experience some turnover with both bus drivers and aides and it is a challenging job for a variety of reasons, with the least being a split shift. Either you like it, or you can like it more,” Mr. Moore said.
Mr. Moore said bus drivers are crucial to the district’s overall mission to be able to provide students with education opportunities. There are some instances where students without school bus transportation would have a difficult time being able to get to and from school.
“Another advantage to having the opportunity to ride the school bus in our district is, the more kids we have on-board, the less congestion there is around the school. Some parents drive their kids and we have walkers, which creates a lot of pedestrian traffic,” Mr. Moore said. “I think it probably has a number of benefits that are not thought of.”
The district recently invested in its bus fleet, which is closely monitored for maintenance by computers, allowing the vehicles to run at their greatest efficiency.
“It bares a lot to the bottom line as far as what the district allocates for us to keep those things on the road, not only for the home-to-school drop off, but even for extracurricular and athletic events,” Mr. Moore said. “We run hundreds of trips a year and if we didn’t have the capacity to do most of it, the district would incur a greater cost to utilize charter buses.”
Bus drivers aren’t just tasked with getting kids to and from school. They are an extension of the educational system, often providing insight into students to staff when they arrive on campus to give them the best shot at success.
“We are 625 kiddos strong at Kingswood Elementary and drivers and aides are the first faces students are greeted with each day when they get on the bus,” Kingswood Elementary Principal Jeremy St. Germain said. “We hear about students all the time from drivers when we are out on bus duty. They tell us if someone is having a good day or having some challenges and they really set the stage for us, so that relationship is important.”
Mr. St. Germain said the drivers and aides have the same concern for their kids as teachers do in the classroom. They know their students and when they aren’t at pick up, they are concerned.
“We have constant communication back and forth between the school and home and our drivers are very aware of what’s going on in the community,” Mr. St. Germain said.
Some come from backgrounds with no driving experience, while others take the job with 30 years of commercial vehicle operation.
For example, William “Woody” Warren transitioned from the military and has been with the district for three years. He was looking for work that he was already good at and realized driving a big yellow bus was a good fit.
“Everyday I see different personalities, sometimes from different kids and other times from the same students. The kindergarten students talk my ear off,” Mr. Warren explained. “It’s neat to watch them grow up.”
While driving thousands of students is a major responsibility, Mr. Warren said he tries not to overthink it and just gets the students to and from school safely. He said he likes to listen to conversations happening behind him to stay on top of things and just following the rules Dysart has established is all part of the job.
Transportation Administrator Karma Valenti said getting hired as a bus driver takes a lot of certifications, but the good news is you can apply with the qualifications desired and they can train you through the process to get you your CDL.
“Our district is a qualified third-party tester, so we can issue their CDLs right here and once they’ve completed the training they can start driving,” Ms. Valenti said.
Included in the training is 40 classroom hours, CPR and first aid. The district also trains and certifies drivers and aides in violent crisis intervention. They need 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training and most drivers acquire around 30.
“We make sure we put the safest driver we can produce on the road for children,” Ms. Valenti said.
The district is looking for people who want to live up to their high standards and have a passion for the job.
Interviews will take place starting Monday, Jan. 8, 2018.
The next training is set for Monday, Jan. 29, 2018.
Visit here for more information.