Schools: Bus drives getting harder to hire

Published 1:36 am Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Class for potential new drivers set here in April

Transportation directors from local school systems both agree that there is a shortage of school bus drivers and they said that it is most likely because of sub spots not being filled.

Andalusia City Schools’ transportation director Kim Thompson said that the shortage is statewide.

“We hear about it all the time in our meetings that there is a shortage all around the state,” Thompson said. “I can find drivers, the problem is that we don’t have anybody on our sub list.”

The sub list is used for when full-time bus drivers call out sick or can’t be at work for the day.

“Nobody wants to sub, because the pay is not that great,” Thompson said. “They also are not familiar with the routes and things like that. Unfortunately, through the sub list is the way that we get our full time bus drivers. So, if the sub list is empty then we can’t pull from it.”

Andalusia City Schools currently has 10 routes that are all filled, but only one person on the sub list.

“Another thing is that a lot of people don’t want to do it because they don’t know the kids,” Thompson said. “A lot of people are not too keen on driving several children. I mean, I have several people that will drive for field trips and things like that when there is a chaperone present, but not when it is just them in the mornings and afternoons.”

Thompson said that it is a fairly easy process to get certified to drive a school bus.

“Drivers have to get their CDL, with school bus and passenger certification,” Thompson said. “They have to take the four-part test with the state department, a three-day class and pass a written and driving exam. It is a pretty easy process; it just takes a lot of time. I think some people just don’t want to do the work to get certified and I think that some people are just not cut out to drive children.”

She said that her bus drivers truly love their kids.

“They are always checking on the kids,” Thompson said. “Like if a kid is out for a couple days they ask me where they are or if they are sick. For some of the drivers, this is just their mission field.”

Covington County Schools’ transportation director Ricky Messick agreed that being a bus driver is a calling.

“It really has to be a calling for someone to want to do this job,” Messick said. “It takes a lot of responsibility and it takes a lot of nerves to do because you’re in a position of protecting children.”

He said that the majority of bus drivers can’t have a normal full-time job.

“Folks have to be in a situation where they don’t have a normal full-time job because of the hours they have to work as a bus driver,” Messick said. “They are usually retired and looking for a little money on the side, because you’re not going to get rich doing it. Since most people do have a full-time job, it cuts down the pool of applicants.”

Covington County Schools have 50 routes, 50 bus drivers and travel around 800,000 miles a year. Currently they have no openings, but that could change at any moment, Messick said.

“We have several employees that could retire at any point,” Messick said. “It really just fluctuates, because we could go from not needing any to needing four one year.”

Messick said that Covington County Schools also hires from their sub list. 

State salary schedules show the entry level pay for bus drivers, who work 183 days a year, is $12,733. Drivers also are eligible for benefits.

A new bus driver’s class will be held April 8, 9 and 10, at the Covington County Bus Shop. For more information, contact the Covington County Central Office at 334-222-7571, or Messick at 334-427-3824.