by Terry Rogers
Traveling along many of the roads in Milford School District, signs can be seen advertising positions for bus drivers. The shortage of bus drivers is a continual problem for contractors, not only in Milford but throughout the country.
“It has gotten worse with the improvement of the economy,” Mearl Layton, of the Delaware School Bus Contractors Association. “As always, we start the year short of drivers for the routes. Most of the contractors piece together drivers to get the routes covered, using spare drivers, family members and even maintenance personnel that are licensed. This puts a continuous strain on other aspects of the operation.”
Layton believes that the amount of pay available to pay bus drivers is not enough. Each bus contractor is paid using a formula determined by the state which includes an amount each driver should receive. Layton explained that many contractors are already paying above what the contract provides them in order to recruit and retain drivers. According to Layton, the Delaware Department of Education, state legislators and the DSBCA are working on improving the formula that could ease the driver shortage which he believes is at a critical point.
Becoming a school bus driver can be intimidating as there are many steps that must be completed. They must submit to a pre-employment drug test and a Child Protective Registry registration. They also must be fingerprinted and submit a Criminal History Record Check Authorization. Once the background and drug checks are complete, the driver must submit an affidavit, DOE school bus physical form and TB test results. The contractor will submit those forms to the school district. The next step is to attend a 12-hour DOE bus driver training class which is held over two days each month.
Once the classes are completed and all paperwork submitted, the driver must visit DMV to take the CDL and “S” knowledge examinations. If they pass the examination, they are issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit and they must wait 14 days before taking the DMV driving test. Fee waivers are available from district transportation offices for the examination. After passing the skills test at DMV, the driver must then be trained through a contractor with a CDL qualified trainer. The training includes at least two hours onboard observation with students, two hours skill evaluation without students and two hours skills demonstration driving and managing students. At that time, the district issues a yellow card which is taken with the green card given after a valid physical is submitted to DMV to get the “S” endorsement on their license.
“A lot of the time the biggest hold up is getting a road test scheduled for the driver with the Motor Vehicle Department,” Layton said. “Just to get the road test scheduled can take anywhere from four to six weeks. Bus drivers get no special consideration in getting a road test scheduled to receive their license. If, for some reason, they do not past the first time, they move to the back of the line.”
Drivers who hold a current Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) are not exempt from other requirements necessary to become a bus driver. Not only does a school bus driver have to qualify for a CDL, they must also qualify for an “S” endorsement. Part of this process requires that they know various parts of the bus engine.
“This is a holdover from when the federal CDL license was first required,” Layton said. “The fact is that 99 percent of school bus drivers do not have the knowledge to do any repairs on the vehicle. With the level of sophistication on the buses, only a certified mechanic, with the required equipment has the ability to repair or diagnose a problem.”
There is currently a task force looking at the formula and to address issues faced by today’s bus operator. The formula for compensation to contractors is still based off the original formula which was created in 1977. Layton agreed that, over the years, the formula has been overhauled little by little but it needs a major evaluation which he hopes the task force will be able to accomplish.
“This is a much needed reconfiguration to adequately make sure that the contractors are paid on levels that reflect today’s cost of running a school bus,” Layton said. “With the addition of new mandatory emissions systems, electronics and more, it is far more complicated and expensive business than it was in 1977.”
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