A shortage of bus drivers is an “industrywide” problem, according to the transportation directors of both Hall and Gainesville school systems.
“It’s a pretty demanding job,” said Jerry Castleberry, Gainesville transportation director. “A person would look at a bus driver and think it’s not, but it is pretty demanding.”
The lack of bus drivers was brought up at the Monday meeting of the Hall County Board of Education, on the heels of an initial discussion at the Oct. 14 work session.
“What happens is, they have to have their (commercial driver’s license) before they can actually drive on the road,” said Hall Transportation Director Jewel Armour. “We seem to lose folks between the classroom training and the driving- on-the-road training.”
The Hall school board approved creating an incentive for up to four teachers per high school, and two per middle school, to encourage them to train for and earn their commercial driver’s license.
Further, board members approved a minimum $50 bonus for drivers on extracurricular activities, up from about $35 previously.
“We’d like to go ahead and implement that as soon as we can make it work with our paperwork,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said. He said the bonus increase would cost the school system somewhere between $11,000 and $20,000 annually.
“That’s pretty minimal if that helps us get drivers for extracurricular activities,” Schofield said.
It is hoped the incentives will alleviate the problem of not having enough bus drivers for activities such as field trips or athletic events.
“Sometimes we just don’t have enough substitute drivers to allow (regular) drivers to take off and go drive an (extracurricular) trip,” Armour said. He added that training more coaches and teachers to drive a school bus would help solve that problem.
At the Oct. 14 work session, Hall Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said roughly 20 percent of the people the school system trains for bus driving actually follow through with the program.
“We’ve been having a great deal of trouble getting enough substitute (bus drivers) to man the routes that we need to man during the busy times of the year with other trips, (like) athletic trips and academic trips and so forth,” Lovett said at the time.
Armour said people don’t complete training for a variety of reasons. Some don’t pass the license exam, and some don’t even take the test in the first place.
“(There are) other reasons, I’m sure,” he said. “But that’s where the issue has been.”
Training begins with at least 12 hours of classroom training. Once that is complete, one of the next steps is to drive six hours without students, supervised by a licensed driver. Then, the trainee must drive six hours, supervised, with students in the bus.
The Hall County school system holds training classes throughout the year, as soon as it has enough participants to justify a class, typically anywhere from seven to 15 people. Since May of this year, around 60 have signed up for training.
There’s not much of an additional cost for training beyond regular bus drivers assisting with on-the-road training.
The school system does pay a $350 stipend to people going through the training system. They receive $150 after the first five days of driving, and then $200 after 15 days.
“Usually, if I can keep them driving 15 days, they’re going to (remain with us),” Armour said.
“Other than that, there are no other costs other than normal operational expenses,” he added. In the Hall system, applicants start off as substitute drivers. As routes become open, they pull from the substitute list.
Both Armour and Castleberry said not having enough bus drivers has always been a problem, especially as the economy improves and more jobs open up for people with a commercial driver’s license.
“It’s an issue pretty much I think statewide,” Armour added. “It’s always an issue from year to year.”