QUINCY — Scott Douglas has been in his new position as the assistant director of transportation for Quincy Public Schools for only a few months. So when the former athletic director and longtime basketball coach was asked to describe the shortage of bus drivers in the transportation department, he dipped into his sports past.
“We have a really good team, a terrific team,” he said. “We just don’t have a very deep team. We’re really challenged.”
Douglas says 61 drivers are available to handle school bus routes, but there are no substitutes.
“When people go down, and especially in the time that we’re at right now, you have to have people who are able to step into those roles,” Douglas said. “Frankly, we just don’t have many of those people who are able to do that right now.
“We already have people who are spending enormous hours working in other areas of transportation. It’s not just driving a bus. There’s lots of other stuff that’s going on. You might have issues at a bus stop. You may have to deal with some some student discipline. All kinds of things come about on any given day that require people’s time.
“When you’re already stretched pretty thin, what ends up happening is you end up taking people who have those particular assignments away because they also have to become sub drivers.”
Office staff asked to fill in when subs are unavailable
Douglas says most good substitute drivers eventually earn their own bus route. “That kind of means you’ve arrived,” he said.
So when he runs out of substitutes, he must dip into his “bench.”
“Almost every day this year, we’ve had our office staff driving,” he said. “That involves two ladies currently and two more who are working on getting their CDL (commercial driver’s license). We have our mechanics driving. They’re having to be pulled away from their regular duties. It’s kind of like a next-man-up operation. It’s challenging when you’re not refilling those sub roles on a regular basis.”
He’s also often forced to combine routes. Douglas says it’s not uncommon to have 70 potential kids assigned to a bus. However, maybe only 30 of them ride daily.
“But you have to be ready if all 70 show up,” he said. “So you have to have a backup plan before you start combining routes.”
Goal is for no child to be on bus for more than an hour
Combining routes also means students are forced to wait longer for buses to arrive, or they may have to stay on the bus longer than normal. Douglas says the transportation department is continuing to improve on those times.
“That is really kind of, under the circumstances, remarkable,” he said. “We’ve got into a pretty good routine. We’re still tight. Some of our buses aren’t getting from our high school and junior high route to their elementary route as fast as they should, but that’s continued to improve over time, too. The more stability you have, the more people are driving the same route every day, the more fluid that’s going to be. We haven’t hit our times as much as we would like to this year, but we’re getting close.”
Douglas says the goal for the department’s buses is not to have a child on a bus longer than an hour.
Douglas: ‘(Bus drivers) do it because they love the kids’
The school district’s website always has bus driving positions open on its job site. Douglas says he’s also looked into hiring services, and they’re also offering the job on social media platforms.
“There are signs up all over the place that are notifying people we’re hiring drivers,” he said. “For these people who do it, it’s really not just a job. They really do it because they love the kids. We have a number of people here who have had a long career doing this. They’re really good at what they do. They’re really good with kids.
“Being a school bus driver is really important to our community. Getting kids to and from school when they otherwise may have a really difficult time doing that, it’s a big deal. A good portion of our folks say this is way more than a job, and I think they get some satisfaction from doing it.”
Douglas says the typical job is a four-hour day, with a two-hour pre-trip and route in the morning and another pre-trip and route in the afternoon. Those looking to work more could be employed by the school district as bus riders for special education and early childhood buses, or they could work in other district jobs, such as in a school cafeteria.
He says the pay for an entry-level driver is a little more than $14 per hour. Drivers without their CDL will receive 40 hours of paid training to earn that state certification.