Wilson County Schools still struggles to fill open bus driver jobs, temporarily shuttering one route in Gladeville and even having a handful of teachers drive buses.
“Evidently, there’s a driver void that has been difficult to fill for that particular route,” WCS spokesman Bart Barker said. “Canceled means ‘to never come back.’ So, it’s not ‘canceled.’ The route is currently closed, meaning it can re-open. Until a driver can take over that route, it will remain closed/shut down for an indefinite amount of time.”
Barker said the school district would like to have 10 substitute drivers, “but we have not had substitute drivers available in quite some time.”
WCS Transportation Director Jerry Partlow said there were 193 buses in the WCS fleet in August when school began. He said that even if he had people willing to drive all of those buses, it would take from four to eight weeks to get through the hiring process of WCS and the state regulations.
“We’re short and then I have my driver-trainers driving buses,” Partlow said. “So that’s another problem or issue we have. It’s not going to be an easy fix. It’s just going to take a lot of shoe leather and hard work to try to get enough drivers.”
Gladeville Middle School opened this year, adding bus routes to the school system. More routes will be added in August when Green Hill High School opens in Mt. Juliet.
Partlow said that the calls to the transportation department, “are not all negative. We have a tremendous number of parents that are pleased with the service we are providing.”
WCS Director Dr. Donna Wright said that when parents call the transportation department and no one answers, “we explain to (the parents) that they are driving buses.”
Incentives for drivers
Wright said that the problem getting drivers is that “everyone is hiring right now, and some are offering a $5,000 bonus. I know (the parents’) frustration, but they need to know, we just can’t find people to work.”
At the February board meeting, board member Kimberly McGee said she recently read an article about another Tennessee school system that tackled the problem by guaranteeing the drivers a certain number of hours, offering benefits, and even a bonus at the end of the school year if they didn’t call in sick or miss any days.
Hall said that WCS does offer guaranteed bonuses.
“If they work all year, they get a $1,500 bonus. The majority, 60 percent or 65 percent of your drivers already work over 30 hours a week,” Hall said. “If you guarantee them 7.5 hours, then you have to commit to putting it in the budget for the benefits for health insurance, life insurance and dental insurance. So, we have discussed that as well.”
Hall said there are some routes “that are down, but our real issue is not having enough substitute drivers so, like now, when we have 4 or 5 drivers call out sick, that’s where we get in a real big bind, or we have a situation occur where we have to pull a driver, for whatever reason.”
Wright said that the drivers who have a second job are allowed to take the bus to that job which occurs between running routes. Hall said that the system is allowing drivers to run, for example, a morning route, but not the afternoon route.
“The dilemma that causes is we will be calling a set of parents on the route and telling them the bus will be running in the morning and not the afternoon, or vice versa,” Hall said.
He added that the system has talked to teachers who “might want an early planning period in the morning and another who could drive in the afternoon. It’s a hard route because you’re asking people to get up at 4:30 in the morning, be back home around 9:30, spend two or three hours doing something and being back (at the school) at 1:30 and do it again.”
Hall noted that there are about five or six teachers who are driving a bus this school year.
Lebanon Special School District Director Scott Benson said that his transportation department has a full staff of drivers, but it is always looking for substitute drivers.
He confirmed, that “on occasion, our transportation director does have to drive when drivers are out.”