The driver shortage continues to be a major problem nationwide, with no end in sight. The robust economy has created near full employment in many communities. What have we done as an industry to enhance our ability to ensure that we have enough drivers to meet our ever-growing needs? The educational community is under constant pressure to provide more services to our children while simultaneously keeping the cost and taxpayer burdens to a minimum. As our school systems go through their annual budget processes and the need arises to pare back our initial requests, the first budget cuts by administrators are transportation services and facilities. The reasoning is that we must have enough money for the classroom. Tough to argue against that reasoning. However, as advocates for children’s services and safety, we must lobby for the dollars needed to ensure that our children are transported safely to and from school daily.
A comparision of requirements
Have you ever compared the requirements needed to be a teacher to those of a school bus driver? Let me offer some food for thought. A teacher must have a four-year college education, be state certified and in most states obtain a master’s degree within five years of graduation. In many states there is no requirement that they undergo drug or alcohol screenings or criminal background checks. The teacher’s position is considered a safety-sensitive one and has, on average, between 51¼2 and 6 hours per day of student contact. An elementary school teacher has an average class of fewer than 25 students. A middle school or high school teacher has an average of fewer than 25 students per period. The American Federation of Teachers reports that in 1999, the salary of more than 3 million teachers averaged $40,574 for the 10-month school year. All professional school bus drivers are required to obtain a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). They are also required to have on- and off-the-road training specific to transporting schoolchildren. In some states they must be certified to provide First Aid and CPR. Professional school bus drivers are also required to be drug and alcohol tested as well as background-checked for criminal convictions and driving infractions. Additionally, the professional school bus driver is subject to random drug and alcohol testing. The average driver has 51¼2 to 6 hours of student contact per day. Typically, drivers have 45 to 50 students on their buses (seated behind them, not in front) two to three times each morning and afternoon. The professional driver earns an average of $11,652 for the 10-month school year. (“Contractors Struggle with Driver Shortage, Low Rate Increases,” SCHOOL BUS FLEET, June/July 1999). Clearly, drivers are more closely regulated than their more highly paid counterparts in the classroom.
Fight the good fight
As transportation directors, we must do a better job of communicating the importance of proper funding for transportation operations. It is imperative that we raise driver wages so we can secure men and women of outstanding quality to transport our children. Twenty-four million children ride school buses twice daily. Professional school bus drivers must ensure these children safely board and exit the bus 48 million times a day. I know of no other job that carries as much responsibility for the safety of our children.
Robert Pape is president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation and transportion director at Lawrence Public Schools in New York.