pare. All other employees received a 2 percent raise.” Austin ISD also boasts the best benefits in Texas.

Compensation includes the employee’s social security and pay for the times when school isn’t in session, such as spring break. “Our benefit package is a very positive influence on attracting and retaining employees,” said Hafezizadeh. “I’m a member of the Council of Great City Schools, and in those meetings as well, I’ve never heard of any other school matching our benefits.” In September, drivers were taking the buses to various

locations, so students had access to Wi-Fi hotspots for virtual learning. Weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., there were over 200 locations where students could log on to keep up with their schoolwork. “Teams of drivers and monitors staffed the buses to

allow for breaks, and so we weren’t leaving the buses unattended in apartment complexes,” said Hafezizadeh.

Motorcoaches Fill in The Gaps In New York’s Ithaca City School District, Director of

Transportation Elizabeth Berner and a local motorcoach company continue to work together to keep wheels turning and drivers busy. The district has long relied on Swarthout Coaches for athletic trips, when regular district bus drivers couldn’t be spared from their routes. Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, both of which kept the motorcoaches busy with sports and other events before the pandemic altered college schedules. Fewer routes also helped lessen the number of drivers

needed. “We were going to train some of the Swarthout drivers who didn’t have the ‘S’ endorsement and put them out on routes,” Berner explained. “But we’ve been fortunate with our open interview events, which we advertise on social media and on the radio. With the ris- ing unemployment rate, we had 11 applicants at our last event. Five of those have passed their road test already.” What about drivers who were wary of working with kids? Berner reassigned them. “For a few drivers who chose not to work directly with students, we’ve accom- modated them with duties like school district mail and delivering food,” she added. “One Saturday before school opened in October, 900 textbooks were delivered. What has transpired with the motorcoach drivers has been to use them as a shuttle service between schools, including [Board of Cooperative Educational Services], and with some of our McKinney-Vento students.” Mark DiGiacomo, Swarthout’s tour and charter man- ager, is looking forward to the day when the fleet is once again rolling with more charter trips. In the meantime, he is pleased the drivers are busy with school runs. “Some of our drivers who used to drive [a] school bus don’t live close enough to work a split shift,” he noted. “A

couple of them have returned to the schools they used to work for. There were other drivers who, when they found out they needed to take the full road test including the pre-trip to have the ‘S’ endorsement, just didn’t want to go through that process.”

Paid Training Despite School Shut-Down Rebecca Sykes, the director of transportation for Sargent School District RE-33J in rural southern Colorado, was also concerned about losing her drivers when schools closed last spring. “Last March, I was really scrambling for an idea to keep them paid,” Sykes admitted. “We’re such a small district that we could lose our drivers to a surround- ing school in a heartbeat. With only 10 drivers, things can be really tight some days, especially because most of my drivers also farm. It’s not unusual to have a driver call in because their cows are out.” Sykes said she knew if she didn’t think creatively, there

could be no transportation services offered for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Using guidelines pub- lished by the Colorado Department of Education, Sykes formed a plan that kept her drivers paid and helped boost their driving skills. “I put together online classes for them on both the

Colorado and the federal rules and regulations,” Sykes explained. “There were 13 modules, so I put those online for my drivers. The trainings covered subjects like child safety restraint systems, student management, and other things we sometimes don’t get to cover in-depth at meetings. I explained that this wasn’t mandatory, but if they needed the money, here was a way for them to earn their regular pay for the rest of the school year.” Discussion points got conversations going during

Zoom calls, especially if a driver got a question wrong and wanted to argue the point. “At the end, we had a Zoom potluck dinner, which was really interesting and fun,” Sykes said laughing. “Transportation is one of the few areas that can adapt

on the fly,” Sykes continued. “We’re used to adapting to changing situations multiple times a day—it’s one of our strengths. I’ll tell you that not all of my drivers were espe- cially computer literate, and I got a lot of phone calls at first because they never had to navigate the internet and get on Zoom. A lot of times they had gotten stuck or were in the wrong place. But they appreciated the opportunity that the school offered them to continue getting paid, which I think helped in having all of them come back this fall.”

Rolling With the Punches “It’s certainly been a different kind of year for our

drivers,” admitted Katrina Morris, transportation director for West Shore Educational Services District in Luding- 17

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