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Schools pulling out the stops for more bus drivers

POSTED: January 2, 2014 9:01 p.m.

The Effingham County School System hopes the new year brings a few new bus drivers.


With several school bus drivers out for medical or family reasons, and not enough substitutes to go around, school officials are facing their perennial shortage of drivers to take students to and from school and extracurricular activities.


“It’s been like this since I’ve been here,” said Jimmy Helmly, the school system’s transportation coordinator since 2002.


Every school day in Effingham County requires 119 drivers on 187 regular routes, with some drivers running double routes. In addition, 1,530 buses were scheduled for extracurricular trips during the 2012-13 school year.


“If all we had to do was take them to and from school, we would still need drivers,” Helmly said. “We have five full-time substitute positions, and we’ve never had but three of those filled.”


A number of drivers have been out for a week, or even several weeks, at a time this year, Helmly said. Drivers have taken extended leave for a variety of reasons, ranging from a death in the family to having and recovering from surgery.


A shortage of substitutes often requires school transportation department employees — including Helmly and assistant transportation coordinator Larissa Knight — to step in and drive routes.


“There have been times when we were both gone (on routes),” Knight said.


Effingham County school bus drivers are paid $10,000 a year for a single route and $12,000 for double routes. Substitute drivers receive $25 in the morning and $25 in the afternoon.


“The money for the (number of) hours you work is good,” Knight said.


However, becoming a school bus driver requires several steps, beginning with a check of the applicant’s criminal history and driving record (motor vehicle report, or MVR). Applicants also must undergo a complete physical and a drug and alcohol screening by a doctor.


“The MVR and physical can thin a bunch of people out,” Helmly said. “We’ve had several people who didn’t get past the background check, and then sometimes we have retired people that everything is fine and their hearing is not up to snuff.”


Potential bus drivers must earn their commercial driver’s license and take 12 hours of classroom instruction. The final step is to complete six hours of driving time on a bus without students and six hours with students.


Knight acknowledged that a bus driver’s schedule — a couple of hours early in the morning and couple of hours in the afternoon with a long break in-between — isn’t for everyone. Drivers are needed on nights and weekends as well, especially on Fridays that both of the county’s high schools are playing football games out of town.


“There’s four or five buses for the band, that many for the football team and then a cheerleading bus, for each school,” Knight said.


“We’ve had 22 or 23 buses in Macon on a Friday night,” Helmly said. “And that’s not counting middle school. When we get in a mess is when middle schools play on a Friday and everybody else is playing.”


Bus drivers receive health insurance coverage through the school system. An added benefit, Knight pointed out, is the friendships drivers build with the children who ride the bus and their families.


“Transportation touches everything in the system,” she said. “Your children change teachers every year, but some drivers have driven children all 12 years of school.”

School bus drivers needed
Online applications are available at www.effinghamschools.com.
From the homepage:
Click "Departments"
Click "Human Resources"
Click "Employment Opportunities"
Click "Classified"
Click "Transportation"
Click "Bus Driver"
For more information, call the Effingham County School System’s transportation department at 754-3574.

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