Behind The Wheel: Let’s Help Our School Bus Drivers with Support & Solutions to the Crisis They Face

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Publishers Note: School Bus driver shortages are plaguing our school districts. It seems that every school districts are facing a shortage of drivers. In Polk County where Cleveland, Tennessee is one assistant school superintendent Joel Cox even started driving due to the crisis.

I’m writing this to ask for solutions to try to help, not only the school district but the owners of these expensive school buses costing upwards of $100,000.
I recently spoke to a former Smyrna High School classmate Cindy Phillips Demonbreun about the shortage and issues they often faces with people passing the school buses while they’re loading and unloading students to the severe behavioral problems they see in many children today. 

Behind The Wheel, Navigating the Roads: The Critical Shortage of School Bus Drivers and Their Indispensable Role

In recent years, school districts across the nation have been grappling with a pressing issue that significantly impacts the education system—the shortage of school bus drivers. This shortage, exacerbated by various factors, has given rise to a host of challenges, affecting the timely transportation of students to and from schools.


Gossett Bus Lines, Estes Bus Services of Rutherford County and many other School Bus companies are in need of drivers. 

One of the primary contributors to the shortage is the demanding nature of the job, which often involves early morning starts and late afternoon shifts. The irregular working hours, coupled with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of students, can make recruiting and retaining bus drivers a challenging task. Additionally, the stringent requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with a school bus endorsement further limit the pool of potential candidate.

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The shortage has been particularly pronounced in rapidly growing communities, where school populations are expanding, and the need for reliable transportation is escalating. This issue hit home for Metro Nashville school bus drivers in 2022, prompting a crisis that led to delays, frustration among students and parents, and the realization that more needed to be done to attract and retain qualified drivers.

 


Creative Solutions to Retain and Recruit Good Drivers

  1. Bonus Incentives for Safe Driving: Implement a reward system that offers bonuses or incentives for school bus drivers who consistently demonstrate safe driving practices.
  2. Referral Programs: Introduce a referral program that rewards current drivers for bringing in new, qualified applicants. This can help expand the pool of potential drivers.
  3. Flexible Schedules: Offer flexible working hours or part-time options for drivers, catering to those who may prefer a less rigid schedule.
  4. Training Opportunities: Provide ongoing training opportunities for drivers, including workshops on advanced driving techniques, student management, and emergency response. This can enhance their skills and confidence.
  5. Performance-Based Pay: Consider tying compensation to performance metrics, rewarding drivers for punctuality, reliability, and positive feedback from students, parents, and school staff.
  6. Health and Wellness Programs: Implement health and wellness initiatives, such as gym memberships or wellness checks, to support the physical and mental well-being of bus drivers.
  7. Community Engagement: Foster a sense of community by organizing events that bring together drivers, school staff, and parents. This can enhance camaraderie and job satisfaction.
  8. Driver Appreciation Events: Host regular appreciation events to recognize the hard work of school bus drivers. This could include awards, certificates, or small tokens of appreciation.
  9. Efficiency Bonuses: Introduce bonuses for drivers who optimize routes, ensuring fuel efficiency and reduced travel times.
  10. Professional Development: Offer opportunities for professional development, allowing drivers to acquire new skills or certifications that can open doors to additional responsibilities or promotions.
  11. Technology Adoption: Invest in technology that can streamline administrative tasks, such as route planning software, reducing the workload for drivers and improving overall efficiency.
  12. Uniform and Equipment Upgrades: Provide quality uniforms and equipment for drivers, enhancing their professional image and ensuring they have the tools they need to perform their job effectively.
  13. Driver Councils: Establish driver councils or forums where drivers can voice concerns, provide suggestions, and actively participate in decision-making processes.
  14. Performance Reviews: Conduct regular performance reviews to recognize achievements, identify areas for improvement, and provide constructive feedback to drivers.
  15. Partnerships with Local Businesses: Forge partnerships with local businesses to provide discounts or special offers to school bus drivers, creating an additional perk for their employment.
  16. Retirement Planning Assistance: Offer retirement planning assistance to drivers, showcasing a commitment to their long-term well-being and financial security.
  17. Family Support Programs: Recognize the importance of family by providing support programs such as childcare services or family events for drivers and their loved ones.
  18. Safety Bonuses: Introduce safety bonuses for drivers who consistently adhere to safety protocols, fostering a culture of responsibility and diligence.
  19. Recognition Programs: Create a formal recognition program that highlights outstanding drivers, showcasing their achievements and dedication to the community.
  20. Collaboration with Schools: Work closely with schools to create a positive working environment for drivers, ensuring they feel valued and integral to the overall education system.

 

Recognizing the severity of the problem, Metro Nashville’s response was crucial in highlighting the importance of school bus drivers. The decision by the Metro Council to approve a substantial starting pay increase from $16.87 to $22.25 per hour was a significant step in the right direction. This wage boost not only addresses the financial concerns of drivers but also serves as a symbolic gesture of support, showing that the community values the essential role bus drivers play in the educational system.

Should Rutherford County School Board Approve School Bus Drivers to Allow them to Sell Ads on their School Buses? Many Say ‘YES’

Other districts across the state allow advertising. Below si the Tennessee State law that the Tennessee General Assembly has approved. 

Tenn. Code Ann., Section 49-6-2109(d), provides as follows:

(d)  Nothing in this title shall prohibit a local school district from allotting space on the exterior or interior of a school bus for the purpose of commercial advertising. After consultation with the department of safety, the state board of education is directed to promulgate rules and regulations to effectuate this subsection (d). Commercial advertising shall be permitted only on the rear quarter panels of the school bus of a size not to exceed thirty-six inches (36″) in height and ninety inches (90″) in length and shall not advertise alcohol or tobacco products. Commercial advertising permitted by this subsection (d) shall not include campaign advertising as prohibited in § 2-19-144, and any such campaign advertising shall be expressly prohibited. Commercial advertising permitted by this subsection (d) shall not include individual food items that, pursuant to § 49-6-2306, cannot be sold or offered for sale to pupils in pre-kindergarten through grade eight (pre-K-8) through vending machines.

The Rules of the State Board of Education, Rule 0520-01-05-.01(7) may be viewed online at the following link:  School Bus Advertising Rule

 

School Bus Have a Huge Responsibility

The impact of school bus drivers extends beyond their ability to maneuver vehicles on the road. They are entrusted with the safety and well-being of students, making them the first point of contact as children embark on their school day and return home. Bus drivers play a crucial role in creating a positive and secure environment, ensuring that students start and end their day on a reassuring note.

Moreover, the shortage of school bus drivers can have far-reaching consequences. Overburdened drivers may need to cover multiple routes, leading to delays, disruptions, and increased stress for both students and parents. The reliability and efficiency of school transportation are vital components of a well-functioning education system, and the shortage of drivers poses a direct threat to these aspects.

The recent efforts to address the shortage, such as the pay increase in Metro Nashville, have shown promising signs. Recruitment drives, training programs, and ongoing support for drivers are essential components of a comprehensive solution. The positive impact of these measures is evident as returning drivers express their commitment to the job, and new applicants join the ranks.

As the new school year begins, it is crucial for communities to recognize the significance of school bus drivers and the challenges they face. The ongoing initiatives to attract and retain drivers should be celebrated, and further support from local authorities and the community is vital. By acknowledging the indispensable role of school bus drivers and working collectively to address the shortage, communities can ensure the smooth operation of school transportation and, most importantly, the safety and well-being of the students they serve.

If you or you know someone who may consider driving a school see the link below.

How to become a school bus driver in Tennessee?
Background Check- Drivers must pass a background check before being hired to drive a bus. Medical Examiner’s Certificate- Drivers must pass an annual physical to receive a Medical Examiner’s Certificate. Annual S endorsement training- Drivers must complete an annual 4-hour training to keep their S endorsement.
Visit Tennessee Department of Education for more information on becoming a school bus driver.