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School District dishing up new drivers for empty routes

Dozens of drivers are slated to start driving school buses within the next month, as the Colleton County School District is talking about ways to keep another shortage from affecting students and parents.

“We are talking about incentives to keep drivers motivated, but right now the challenge is getting the drivers in the first place,” said Bob Pence, administrator of the school district’s school zoning.

The district currently has 15 vacancies. Only 63 drivers are covering all of the district’s regular 88 routes, plus an additional 11 special-needs routes. These routes provide transportation to all of the district’s special-needs students. “This shortage is complicated by the drivers we do have needing surgeries or being out sick,” said D.J. Washington, school district transportation director. Washington took the job on July 1st, and walked into the district’s shortage. It’s a problem he’s been dealing with ever since.

As of Friday, Washington has already interviewed about 12 potential drivers. “These people will be a part of the first phase of training, which is a national 20-hour safety class,” said Washington. The first class for new drivers is slated for October 14th. The entire process to become a certified driver can take a month or less, depending on what credentials each driver has when they start the process. This process also includes physical tests that prove the drivers can meet the strenuous demands of the job, said Washington.

So why did these vacancies occur in the first place? According to Washington, scores of drivers left at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. “The vacancies we have now are a result of people leaving their positions, and moving on to better-paying positions.” A driver in Colleton County without a Commercial Driver’s License starts the job making about $8.92 per hour: a CDL is required to be a school bus driver. Anyone with a CDL has to be sent to school to receive this qualification before their work can begin, said Washington. A driver who already has a CDL receives a starting salary of about $9 per hour, according to Washington. “If a person comes in with a CDL already in hand, it obviously shortens the training process for us,” he said.

Both Washington and Pence say they are working with the district on creating “incentives” to offer to drivers to keep them on the job. Neither would elaborate on what these incentives are, but they are hoping to present their ideas to the school board for consideration. Both men also say that more needs to be done to motivate existing drivers and to allure new ones. The bus driver shortage has created long days for many of the district’s students, with students not getting home until after 6 p.m. Parents of students at Hendersonville Elementary School recently complained to the school board about this problem. The parents also said the buses were not on a schedule, and were routinely late in picking children up in the mornings.

Washington says he is “very aware” of these parental complaints and concerns. He is “working on” getting children home at a “proper hour” after school, he said.

Heather Walters (1410 Posts)