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SPECIAL REPORT


buses,” she added. “The other day, I actually had one-third of my workforce out. But we became pretty creative in accomplishing our day.” That day, Allen relayed that on top of normal school


routes, students needed transportation to another school for a sporting event. To make it work, a car followed be- hind the bus to bring the driver back to run another route. Like many district managers, she is running out of ideas.


She already offers competitive wages and benefits like health insurance. She is even considering making the part- time school bus driver job full time, but she also doesn’t want to lose the good people she has who like working 22 to 32 hours a week. Though it’s hard to find new people, Allen knows that most drivers stay for the long haul, once they get a taste of the job. “When people come and they fall in love with their


route and their kids, it’s like a hook, they just stay,” Allen said. “When they wander through the breezeway on their way out, they’re going to tell you a story about what hap- pened on their bus.” Other transportation


departments have moved through several cycles over the last year, adapting routes and transportation needs as rates of in-person learn- ing fluctuated. After all the changes, many are looking forward to getting back to a sense of normalcy. “We have a pretty close-knit


now short 18 drivers—a situation worsened by the plight of local colleges. “Every year we probably get three or four college stu-


dents who come in and apply and drive and build their class schedules around our driving schedule,” Gregg said. “While it’s a great resource for us most years, it hasn’t been a resource this year since classes at the uni- versity are pretty much all remote.” Gregg said he’s posting ads online and in newspapers,


but he still gets the best hires through word of mouth. “I’ve always said your greatest recruiting tool is the


drivers that you currently have,” Gregg said. “If they en- joy coming to work and if they like the people that they work with, they’re going to go out and tell their friends and people in the community that they should come on and drive.” Other districts have been able to stretch part-time and


on-call shifts into full-time positions. Tulare City School District


“I’ve always said your greatest recruiting tool is the drivers that you


currently have.” – Chris Gregg,


Cheney School District in Washington


group here that likes to get to- gether and have potlucks and hang out in the breakroom,” observed Chris Gregg, the assistant director of transportation for Cheney School District in eastern Washington state. “I know that for myself and the office staff, that’s prob-


ably been the hardest thing not to do. I know the drivers miss coming in and seeing everybody and getting together, so I’m looking forward to getting past this and getting together with the drivers again,” he continued. Cheney School District moved from delivering food in the spring of 2020 to transporting only kindergarten through third-grade students in the fall. In February, the district entered a hybrid model and finally began bring- ing back all grades after spring break. While the district typically moves 4,800 students daily,


Gregg said it was only transporting 600 students during hybrid learning. He anticipates 3,500 students coming back before the end of the school year this month and is


20 School Transportation News • JUNE 2021


in central California has long trained mechanics to substi- tute on buses as needed. This year, the district’s mechanics split duties between driving and working in the shop, covering a 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. With federal funding, Administrator of Transpor- tation and Operations Luis Espinoza said he was able to retain drivers and pay over- time to cover new routes. Before COVID-19 took hold, Espinoza ran 20 routes to transport 3,000 students. Between the one student per


bus seat limit and the school holding classes in cohorts, the district’s daily routes increased significantly. As summer approached, the district approved the


purchase of five more buses and is hiring five more sub- stitute drivers. “They want to be able to bring all of the students back,” Espinoza said. “Many parents are choosing to keep their sons or daughters at home because they just don’t have the time or way to get kids to school, so they’re choosing to do homeschooling.” Espinoza said he is glad to work for a supportive dis-


trict, one that is working to solve the problem, because fewer buses means fewer students in school. “They understand our needs,” Espinoza said. “They


know that we need to be able to have more buses and more drivers to be able to transport all of our babies.” ●


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