A recent story about an Indiana school district that decided to help ease its driver shortage by training and hiring teachers — and sweetening the deal with $18,000 for the year — received plenty of attention from our readers. Reactions ranged from supportive to taking offense.
Carmel Clay Schools is training some of its elementary school teachers to drive bus routes before and after their classes, starting with the 2019-20 school year, Indianapolis Star reported in July.
Roger McMichael, the associate superintendent for the district, told the newspaper that Carmel Clay Schools has struggled for years with a driver shortage, and that each school bus driver currently runs two or three routes every day. McMichael also said that he thought that teachers may find a job driving a school bus to be more convenient than other second jobs available to them. A plus, he added, is that they know how to manage a classroom, which can be a valuable asset for driving a bus.
Some of our readers welcomed the idea, calling it out-of-the-box thinking, and one reader said it was helpful to his district when he drove for field trips and sporting events while he was a teacher. Others expressed concerns about current bus drivers losing opportunities to pick up extra hours for more pay and the issue of seniority among those drivers, whether the teachers will be able to keep up with the ongoing training and meeting requirements, and even whether many teachers at their district would be interested or have enough time.
One comment from a reader on SBF's Facebook page took issue with the headline of the Indianapolis Star article.
“What is sad is that the Indy Star article is titled ‘Innovative or Offensive?’ I wonder if people know how many of us have college degrees,” she wrote. “I get tired of our profession being treated like it’s a last resort or people [in it] are too stupid to do anything else.”
The reader added that parents often treat her differently when they find out she’s a college graduate and works in student transportation “because I love it.”
Many readers commented that if drivers were paid more to begin with and issues with student behavior were handled better, then there wouldn’t be a shortage.
“I left school bus driving for over-the-road trucking because I literally could not support my household on a bus driver’s wages,” another reader shared. “And that was with picking up every possible working hour I could. I literally cannot afford to go back to bus driving. Pay a living wage and I would.”
One reader commented that it isn’t so much the pay they find challenging as the students’ behavior and a lack of respect.
“The school system won’t back the driver. They always let the parents have their way. If they would put the troublemakers off the bus, they could keep more drivers.”
Meanwhile, school systems in North Carolina have been employing a similar practice as a requirement in some cases to mitigate driver shortage. In some counties, school systems require teacher’s assistants, non-managerial custodial staff members, and child nutrition staff members to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), Kevin Harrison, state director of pupil transportation at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, told School Bus Fleet last year.
The practice is seen as a necessity to keep some transportation departments running, Harrison said in the story. Some employees view it as an imposition, and counties that have the requirement reported more difficulties recruiting and retaining those other positions.
“They not only have to find somebody who is a good child nutrition worker, but who is also willing to drive a school bus filled with children, and sometimes those skill sets don’t match up,” Harrison said. “But some transportation departments report that it’s nearly essential they do it.”
If the practice does take hold, hopefully existing drivers will be considered fairly when it comes to being granted extra hours (and pay), and the additional staff will end up helping to take the load off them as well.