Newspapers and television news shows often cover horror stories about school bus drivers gone bad. From bus crashes and student misbehavior caught on security camera to the more appalling tales of drug use, child abuse and leaving children alone on buses, problem drivers can wreak havoc on a school bus operation’s reputation.
However, most departments only deal with minor infractions day-to-day, such as absenteeism and minor accidents. When it comes to managing drivers, transportation directors seem to agree that it’s all about getting to know each driver individually.
“I think that other than transporting kids to and from school safely, that’s probably second-most important in the transportation department — bolstering employees that are having a hard time and trying to give them the support that they need,” says Randy Mazie, director of the John H. Schee Transportation Center at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
When a driver displays signs of being unreliable or exhibits a less-than-stellar performance on the job, a supervisor’s first step is typically a one-on-one counseling session or informal meeting to assess the problem.
In cases of chronic absenteeism or other dysfunctional problems, Mazie says he will go as far as to schedule weekly meetings with drivers to connect with them on a regular basis. “It gives them a feeling that they don’t have to just come into my office when they’re in trouble,” he explains. This kind of open door policy creates rapport and lessens the perceived pressure of dealing with an authority figure, he explains.
Mazie says his department also keeps a complaint log and tracks unauthorized absences and late arrivals to work. “When I start to see two or three complaints coming in on a person, I take a look at the nature of the complaints,” he says. Mazie also uses staff meetings for his supervisors to keep his finger on the pulse and inquire about driver problems. “If you keep your ears open, other employees will let you know who’s having problems,” he says.
“Depending on the severity of what we’re talking about, if you counsel them advising them to be more careful, it takes care of itself,” says John Myers, director of transportation for North Colonie Central Schools in Latham, N.Y. He says that after a meeting like this, with a letter noting the conversation in the driver’s file, 90 percent of these problems will go away.
But if the behavior continues after the initial meeting, Myers says a second meeting is necessary to address the situation more seriously and reiterate the importance of adhering to department policy. The supervisor should also issue a counseling memo that explains the consequences if the driver’s behavior still does not change. “Usually when you do a documentation letter,” says Myers, “you document what happened and what the consequence is if it happens again.”
At Miami-Dade, Mazie says the progressive discipline policy starts with an informal counseling session, moves to a letter of warning if behavior is not corrected, then to a conference for the record — a formal meeting attended by the driver, the supervisor and a union representative.
After the conference, the driver may be issued a letter of reprimand or recommended to the school board for suspension, Mazie says, with termination being the most extreme option. “Generally speaking, it goes from conference for the record and letter of reprimand to a 10-day suspension and even a second 30-day suspension before termination, depending on the situation.”
Linda Thompson, assistant director of transportation at Reorganized R-7 School District in Lee’s Summit, Mo., says that if a driver exceeds his or her allotment of paid time off or comes within a few days of running out of sick time, she will meet with the driver and issue a written warning. “From there, if we keep going downhill, and it’s not an FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] issue, then we’ll have to serve some days off as a suspension time,” she says. “This is what I tell my drivers: It’s important for you to be on your route every day. Your route does not run well when you’re not here.”