BROOKSVILLE - A shortage of Hernando County school bus drivers last year that resulted in students arriving late to class will continue into the 2013-14 school year.
The delays stem from a lack of dependable substitute drivers when full-time, benefitted drivers are unable to make it to work, according to Transportation Director Doug Compton.
The department has made gains by hiring 10 full-time drivers for the upcoming school year.
"Where we're hurting is our sub pool," Compton said. "On a typical day we'll have 10 drivers out, as high as 20 and as low as four or five, so we rely on nonbenefitted employees to fill those needs, and they have other jobs."
Two years ago former School Superintendent Bryan Blavatt recommended a "taxi squad" of 10 drivers be available in the event a full-time driver is ill, or cannot work.
"There are guys that won't dress every day for the game, but can be called in if somebody's injured or out - same concept," Blavatt said.
Compton liked the concept, but it has yet to come to fruition. A budget item that would have added 10 full-time substitute drivers to be available throughout the workday - and wash buses or assist in the office if they weren't driving - got scrapped from this year's budget.
"Obviously that costs more money, but that's something we're looking at down the road," Compton said.
"It's one of the things to speak with (new Superintendent Lori Romano) about as a future need for our students."
In the meantime the situation is still hit-or-miss, Compton said, devoting staff time and resources to calling down the substitute driver list.
"They're not available every day," he said. "We'll start this year out well, and we'll continue to work on it."
According to school transportation officials, interested applicants don't need a certified driver's license.
The school district requires applicants take a written test approving their CDL at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and then undergo training at the transportation department.
But not just anyone can take the wheel. Between background checks and, perhaps most challenging, the test of patience in safely operating a 12-ton vehicle with three dozen screaming students: it takes a specific type of person to bear the bus operator title.
"Once we get them into our classes we don't have a 100 percent success rate in advancing them to full-employee," Compton said.
"They'll realize, 'Maybe this not for me,' and they'll bow out."
State mandate requires all drivers take an eight-hour refresher training course beginning Aug. 7, Compton said, and the department has 225 employees, both full and part-time.