Who is driving the big yellow bus?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Being at school is obviously one of the most important things a student can do during the week, but what about arriving to and from school on time?

Many may take for granted the people who get behind the wheel of the big yellow buses every morning and afternoon, but the shortage of school bus drivers is a problem not just for Butler County but for the entire nation. And finding substitute bus drivers is even more difficult.

&#8220Most people don't realize the struggle we have when it comes to getting substitute bus drivers,” Wayne Boswell, Butler County Schools' administrative assistant for operations, said.

There are several qualifications for bus drivers, whether full-time or substitutes. According to Boswell, bus drivers must have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) with a passenger endorsement, and they must obtain an Alabama State Department of Education bus driver certificate, which includes three days of training, including both written and driving tests. They must be 21 years of age, pay $49 for fingerprinting, have a high school diploma or GED and have a background check.

&#8220The board of education increased the pay from $20 to $25 a day at the beginning of the school year,” Boswell said. &#8220But, we know pay is always an issue when it comes to substitutes.”

The Butler County School System presently has 43 bus routes, which are filled with full-time employees. Right now, the school system has five substitute bus drivers, and there are some applicants who are in the process of being certified as a bus driver.

&#8220The problem is we can't count those yet,” Boswell said.

&#8220We've gotten some response from the ads we put in the newspaper,” he said, &#8220but we still need more.”

Even though there are several coaches, band directors and teachers who have their CDL, they need to be in the classroom during the time the buses are transporting students. Therefore, if any full-time bus drivers are absent, the Transportation Department has to fill in wherever necessary. This includes using maintenance personnel, mechanics and Lloyd Robinson, transportation department supervisor, as substitute bus drivers. Even so, only licensed, certified personnel are allowed behind the wheel of a school bus.

Boswell said that people who are retired, who work part-time or who are not presently employed should apply for the position of substitute bus driver.

In addition to a salary, full-time bus drivers receive health insurance, retirement benefits and sick leave and personal leave days. Substitute drivers only receive a paycheck for the days that they work.

&#8220The amount of time bus drivers work depends on the length of the route,” Boswell said. &#8220If you're driving in town, you might only drive 30 to 45 minutes. If you're driving out in the county, it is usually longer.”

The earliest routes begin at 6:30 a.m. and end around 7:50 a.m., with the afternoon routes beginning at 2:30 p.m. and possibly running to 4:30 p.m.

&#8220We really appreciate our full-time and our substitute bus drivers,” Boswell said. &#8220They are actually doing the school system a favor. I hope they know how much we need them.”