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October 13, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Who’s behind the wheel?: optimizing driver background checks

Officials say it is important to conduct both federal and state checks, as well as monitor applicants’ driving records. Pupil transporters discuss their operations’ hiring policies and procedures, which include contacting previous employers, and also share suggestions on ways the industry could protect itself against undesirable candidates who move from state to state.

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Many transportation officials call bus driver applicants' previous employers during the screening process to learn about the individual's work ethic and character.
<p>Many transportation officials call bus driver applicants' previous employers during the screening process to learn about the individual's work ethic and character.</p>

Such is the case at Walled Lake (Mich.) Consolidated School District. Moreover, Transportation Supervisor Jill Segal says her department only hires drivers with zero points on their driving record.

"I always call the immediate past employer," she adds. "An applicant would be disqualified if they have points on their license or if their previous supervisor said they had issues of any kind, such as excessive tardiness."

At Newport-Mesa Unified School District, the bus driver applicant review process comprises the following components:

 

Application/resume review

Department of Motor Vehicles driving record review

Bus driving knowledge test

Review of training hours for the last five years. (All training hours must be signed for by state-certified instructors.)

Medical exam even if the applicant has a current medical card

A federal and state fingerprint check

Telephone reference checks

In addition, depending on the position, at least one interview is required.

Meslin says his department makes an effort to maintain good relations with the California Highway Patrol, which is responsible for transferring driver records when a driver switches districts.

"We've also improved our recruiting process by working through professional organizations like the California Association of School Transportation Officials and the California Association of School Business Officials," he adds.  

Changes by the Utah Board of Education to the state's standards for school bus driver background and motor vehicle record checks (see the sidebar  on pg. 4) have increased the frequency with which Washington County School District bus driver applicants and existing employees undergo these checks.

Diana Hollander, program officer of pupil transportation at the Nevada Department of Education, believes that a national clearinghouse that lists information about school bus drivers would help employers weed out undesirable candidates.
<p>Diana Hollander, program officer of pupil transportation at the Nevada Department of Education, believes that a national clearinghouse that lists information about school bus drivers would help employers weed out undesirable candidates.</p>

In addition to adhering to the state's standards, Schmutz says previous employment checks are performed, and applicants complete a supplemental questionnaire with their application where they are asked if they have been terminated from any job and if they have ever been charged with a felony.

"We also have a booking site that shows everyone in our county who has been arrested and the reason for the arrest," she says. "We have employees monitor this site, and it has been very helpful and informative."

In addition to background checks prior to employment, a school bus driver applicant at Shenandoah County Public Schools in Woodstock, Va., is asked to furnish a statement signed by two reputable people who reside in the school division or in the applicant's community that he or she is of good moral character, according to Transportation Director Martin Quigley.

"I then call these references to verify aspects of the relationship and to ensure that our drivers are indeed in good moral character," he says.

Extent of checks vary state to state for some school bus contractors
Contractors adhere to the same general guidelines as school districts when hiring bus driver applicants.

At North American Central School Bus in St. Louis, when reviewing an applicant's motor vehicle record, officials look for such unacceptable behavior as speeding or reckless endangerment, according to Director of Safety and Training Frank Ciccarella.

"In addition, we look for DWI convictions that are within the last 10 years," he says.

Contractors differ from school districts, however, in that many times, third party administrators oversee the background and motor vehicle record checks and applicant qualifications. This is the case for North American Central School Bus and for Cincinnati-based First Student Inc.

Maureen Richmond, director of media relations for First Student, says that the company follows the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so if officials find something on a prospective employee's record that they would deem inappropriate, they share that with the candidate and then the candidate has an opportunity to file an appeal if he or she feels that more explanation is needed.

Because First Student operates buses at terminals around the nation, the specifics of applicants' background checks vary based on each state's regulations.    

"It will vary based on how far back you can go. In some states, you can go back to day No. 1; in other states, you can only go back five years, seven years, etc.," Richmond explains.

A background check is performed initially before the applicant transports any students, and then a check is performed again every couple of years.

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