North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Districts preparing bus drivers for upcoming year

 

August 9, 2017 | View PDF

Christopher Andersson

Marysville School District trainee Margaret Mitchell drives a bus on Aug. 3.

Local school districts are preparing their bus drivers for the upcoming school year and hope to attract enough drivers for the new year.

The Arlington School District and Marysville School District are looking for drivers, especially substitute school bus drivers, for the new year.

Driver shortages are pretty common though, said Kim McAbee, transportation director of the Marysville School District.

"I've been in the industry since 1990 and every district has been short on drivers since then," she said.

McAbee estimates that her district could use about five to 10 more substitute drivers, especially for the upcoming flu season.

"We are always looking for substitute drivers," said Charity Prueher, assistant director of transportation at the Arlington School District.

Prueher said that the shortages have been worse in recent years though.

"It hasn't been that bad until the last couple of years," she said. "We were pretty stable before then."

McAbee said that the demand for busing has increased over the last decade, because of a variety of factors.

"More kids ride buses to school, there's more after-school activities, and there's more sicknesses," she said.

The economy also plays a big role in the workers available, she said.

"In this industry there's high expectations and lot of requirements for part-time work. So when the economy is good, workers would prefer to take a full-time job rather than a part-time or substitute job. I think that's what creates the shortage," she said.

Prueher said that the high requirements for the job limit the worker supply as well.

"The skills test has gotten a little more difficult in recent years," she said. "And that is probably the most difficult part for our trainees, because there are many of them who are not familiar with driving buses or other large vehicles."

School districts prepare new drivers with in-class training and on-the-road training as well.

"There are many hours of training out on the road, and it depends on how quickly they pick up the skills and when we think they have got the skills mastered," said Prueher.

"We go out in the bus and train to drive behind the wheel, approximately three to four weeks depending on skill level and how they're progressing," said Jenny Lagadinos, a bus driver and driver trainer at the Marysville School District.

The first focus of the training is often getting the license, before moving on to skills needed for school bus driving.

Prueher said that new bus drivers tend to get the most anxious about driving the bus, but the other skills like handling students and driving routes are also difficult.

Those tasks can be especially hard for substitute drivers who "don't know the students or the route" said McAbee.

"These people need to learn the entire community because they're on different routes on different school days," she said.

Making a mistake on a route can be tricky to fix while not in a car.

"Trying to get turned around or back on route is a lot more challenging in a school bus," said Lagadinos.

There's also other considerations like teaching bus drivers how to cross train tracks.

"We have a lot of tracks in Marysville to cross," said Lagadinos.

The Marysville School District holds an orientation every Monday at 5 p.m. for those interested in becoming bus drivers at their transportation center at 4302 134th St. NE, Marysville.

Interested drivers can also call their training office at 360-965-0310.

Those interested in the Arlington School District can also contact their transportation office at 360-435-3307.

 

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