Area school districts aren’t immune from a national trend, a lack of bus drivers.
Area district transportation directors say they are good when it comes to drivers on their core routes they run on a daily basis. It is having a pool of drivers in reserve that is causing them an issue.
West Noble Director of Transportation Brandon Chordas said he was in need of a full-time driver last year and received no applications.
Chordas said he was fortunate earlier this week when his district lost a driver with only a few days before the new school year was going to start. That same day, Chordas received an application from someone with 20 years of experience.
Many area directors say that luck isn’t the norm.
Brennen Kitchen, director of transportation for DeKalb Eastern schools, said if he had another full-time bus driver, he would look at adding another route for this school year.
Currently, the district is operating seven single routes a day and seven doubles. Those double routes drop off students at both the elementary schools and middle and high school. The lack of an additional full time driver in his district will cause some students to have a longer bus ride before and after school.
Area directors are facing another issue this year as COVID-19 continues to be a present in the community. With the online option gone at most schools, directors are seeing more students requesting to be picked up by the bus.
This has caused area directors to have to shuffle bus routes and evaluate the number of people on buses due to safety precautions and social distancing.
Having a good core group of drivers is important to area districts.
Renee Dawson, director of transportation at DeKalb Central, said she believes her district is in a good place.
“We have a full roster of drivers,” she said. “We are in a good place because of the pay and benefits that our district offers its employees.”
Josh Buhro, director of transportation for East Noble School Corp., said his district is in the same boat.
“We have a good team of drivers… I believe East Noble is a pretty special place to work and our transportation department is one to be proud of,” he said. “We have been very fortunate that we have not found ourselves having to cancel routes due to a lack of drivers, as we hear many districts around the country have had to do. However, we have had to be creative at times.
“We have a very small, but dedicated group of substitute drivers who jump in whenever and wherever they can to cover open routes, and frequently our transportation department mechanics, secretary and myself find our way to the driver’s seat.”
Drivers at DeKalb Central are offered health insurance and retirement benefits and drivers can also pair their position with another position at the school system to gain more hours.
Buhro said his drivers make an average of $99 per day.
Brennen said COVID-19 has made it a little easier for those who are interested to obtain the proper training and licensing requirements. The majority of the training can now be done online, whereas before, people would have to attend a three-day class that was normally a distance from their residence.
Indiana’s requirements consist of 20 hours of pre-service classroom instruction — which can be done online — four hours on-bus observation of a certified bus driver, and eight hours behind-the-wheel supervised by a certified driver. The observation and behind-the-wheel portion of the training are completed by each individual district.
Local residents who are interested in becoming a driver can do so by contacting the transportation director in their school district.