Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bus drivers wanted in Crittenden County

A shortage of bus drivers is becoming critical for Crittenden County School District. The school system has already been forced to consolidate a second route.

"The driver shortage continues to be a daily challenge," Superintendent Vince Clark said at last week's board of education meeting.

The district has had to consolidate to 18 routes because it does not have enough drivers, and has virtually no margin for overcoming absences and covering extra-curricular trips, some of which may be overnight.

"We have no room for error right now. We face running a route or taking a trip sometimes," said Wayne Winters, lead vehicle mechanic. "Of course, the route comes first."

Two drivers called in sick Monday, forcing athletic teams to scramble for a driver for after-school games.

Increased regulations over the years and the nature of the job had already created difficulty in finding interested and qualified candidates. But the November 2016 Chattanooga, Tenn., bus crash that killed six children and injured several more has made it even harder. The driver in the deadly crash was speeding and driving recklessly. Winters said increased scrutiny in the media since the wreck has turned up the heat on transportation officials who make the call on hiring drivers.

"You could not sit down to watch mainstream news for two to four weeks without seeing something about that crash," Winters explained. "If I pull your MVR (motor vehicle record) and find a ticket, I have to think twice. It could put us in a bad situation."

Winters said despite repeatedly advertising openings and coverage of the driver shortage in The Crittenden Press, he has received only a handful of applicants over the last few months. He's constantly recruiting and keeping an eye out for potential drivers.

"I'm just not getting the applications," Winters said.

Due to looming retirements and the return of at least one route, there is a need for three full-time drivers and three more subs for the next school year. Subs start out at an hourly rate of $10.19, while full-time drivers begin at $11.80. Incremental raises are added after that.

He admits driving a bus is not for everyone, but for those with the right stuff, it can be rewarding.
"Within three years, they can be making $13," Winters said.

Plus, there's insurance and retirement.

"The cool thing about it, it's one of the few jobs you've got where you can be off on the weekends and 2-3 months in summer," he added. "It's not a bad gig."

A driver can expect about four hours a day and opportunities for even more supplemental income through extra-curricular trips. Winters said retirees, self-employed individuals and even moms with flexible schedules are ideal candidates. In fact, Winters plans to target those women with a new round of advertising.

Currently, about half of the district's drivers are female.

For more information on becoming a bus driver, contact Winters at (270) 965-3866 or email