Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Columns

Woods: Quality school bus drivers come at a cost

BY JAMES T. WOODS
Guest columnist

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We all have seen the stickers on the rear of school busses that say “Drivers Wanted” as we drive around town. Then there are the horror stories of drivers mistreating students or ignoring situations on busses that put our children in harms way.

These situations sadly are becoming the norm every school year instead of the exception and to me as long as the status quo remains the same, I don’t foresee any changes that will make the situation any better.

I spent many years in the supervision of pupil transportation in upstate New York so I have a back ground and an understanding of what it takes to make a safe and efficient bus system work. First and foremost to attract the right people you need to offer a decent wage and benefit package, something school districts in this area seem to ignore or at least make a low priority.

As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. I realize this is not New York State, but the discrepancy is so blatant and extreme that if some things are not brought to light, nothing is going to change or improve.

Remember you are entrusting the lives of your children every school day with a stranger you know very little about. Everyone should at least have the expectation that these individuals are of above average moral character and possess the necessary driving skills and training to ensure a safe passage too and from school for your children.

You have to ask, due to the almost-weekly television or media story involving a school bus problem occurring in this region, if there is a reason these mishaps are happening? Why here?

Lets examine some of the reasons.

First, look at pay scales. Back in the 1980s, drivers in my school district (East Greenbush) made $16 an hour. How many districts here pay that wage now in 2014?

Second, how many days off do your children get during each school year? None are paid days for school bus drivers but they are expected to absorb and take that hit.

Third, every summer when school is out, drivers have no income. You’re not allowed to collect unemployment.

Put all these conditions together and it’s not hard to understand why it is happening here. Correcting this situation will take changes not everybody is going to be happy to make. The long overdue realization that quality drivers come at a cost and must be addressed.

It seems that this cost is not a priority in most local school district’s budgets. This has to change to attract quality people and fill the ranks.

Just for your information, I made a couple of calls to some old friends up in New York and the drivers of the school district mentioned above now make over $ 20 an hour and there is a waiting list for new hires.

Our school boards need to understand that there is a serious problem here and if it’s going to be addressed and corrected you have to spend some money to correct it.

The school bus driver is an intricate part of the transportation system in every school district. Stop treating them as second class citizens.

James T Woods is a retired transportation supervisor from upstate New York who now lives in Brooksville.

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