A tough question: Your money or your life?

Steve Hirano, Executive Editor
Posted on October 1, 1998

How many times have you awoken in a cold sweat with this single thought preying on your mind: "My God, I’m underpaid!" On the other hand, how many times have your nocturnal dramas been sparked by this disturbing thought: "My God, I have so much to do tomorrow!" If your night terrors revolve around the latter concern — picture a massive pile of "While You Were Out" slips on your desk — you’re probably a school transportation manager. Although you may also be worried about monetary matters, your main concern isn’t your paycheck, it’s the expanding workload that’s consuming your life. Remember the scene from The Shining in which Jack Nicholson’s character typed the same sentence thousands of times? It was something like, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." This industry must take care that it doesn’t create a generation of dull boys (and girls). The long hours and deepening stress levels, caused by inadequate staffing, driver shortages, passenger misbehavior and parent complaints, can only lead to a systematic burnout of transportation managers.

Is it worth the pressure?
For this devotion to duty, you are probably paid in the range of $50,000 per year. At least that’s what we found in this year’s school district survey. Is that enough? Apparently so. Among the approximately 250 responses from transportation managers, we received few complaints about salaries, though many respondents argued that drivers and clerical staff deserve higher wages. This allegiance to the staff is both admirable and practical. That’s because the industry desperately needs qualified drivers to keep yellow buses rolling. Higher wages would help. But, back to transportation managers, who are generally satisfied with their wages but face the prospect of burnout if they can’t control their workload and stress levels. How do you deal with the pressure? From some of the responses to the survey question "What is your favorite activity away from work?" it’s clear that the few moments you have that are your own, you use to relax rather than to churn up more adrenaline with, say, powerboats, hang gliders or paint balls.

How to relax and recuperate
For example, golf was the most popular pastime, hooking 41 of the 180 people who responded to the question. That’s a no-brainer, though. If you asked any group of 50-year-olds (the average age of the respondents was 49.2) to name their favorite sport or hobby, golf would come out on top. And why not? Golf is like a walk in the park, with most players spending a majority of their time in the woods. The second-highest rated outside activity was "family." This means different things to different people, but I surmise that you’re describing leisure time with the loved ones. Sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting. There were 24 people who chose this pastime as their favorite. Fishing was another favorite, hooking (yes, the same bad pun) 19 respondents. Again, we’re talking about a relaxing leisure event, a perfect tonic for the chaos of a transportation office. Like unruly schoolchildren, the fish may bite but, in this case, that’s the objective. Whatever you choose to do in your free time, make sure that it allows you to recharge your batteries. There are no signs that your workload is going to get any lighter. In fact, unless school boards begin to treat school transportation with the respect it deserves, your workload could get heavier. So, if you wake up in the middle of the night, try to remember that perfect four-iron or that game of checkers with your 9-year-old or that seven-pound large-mouth bass. There’s plenty of time to worry about school buses later.

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