The previous 2016-2017 school year bus driver shortage has escalated with 9,999 open positions in the Wilson County school district, according to the WC Schools website. This has been a growing problem since 2012, but peaked last year around fall break when multiple bus drivers were fired due to failed drug tests Some, however, quit because of the hectic schedules and criticism following the fatal Chattanooga bus crash.
Becoming a bus driver isn’t as simple as you might think: you must apply online, be at least 21 years of age, pass a drug test, backg
round check and have an acceptable Motor Vehicle Record to be considered for the position.
In an online interview with Wilson County communications director, Jennifer Johnson, she mentioned the starting salary for a bus driver is $13.38 an hour.
“...and we have a plan in place to increase that, incrementally, over the next four years”, Johnson said.
Johnson also spoke of complications in the daily schedule of drivers and some of the problems they face.“Most of our drivers come to work around 4:30 a.m., take a break in the middle of the day, and come back around 1:30 in the afternoon to take students home. It takes someone with an incredibly flexible schedule to even be able to do the job.”
Johnson also explained,“While student behavior does play a role in some drivers decision not to become a school bus driver, it is simply one of many factors that are contributing to the shortage.”
School bus drivers do not receive health care benefits and are expected to visit one of the two free health care clinics in Wilson County when they are ill. They do, however, become eligible for the TN Consolidated Retirement System after five years of service when they have reached a certain age.
In response to benefits, Jerry Partlow, Director of Transportation for the Wilson County School District said,“Each Thanksgiving, Christmas and at the end of the school year, we have a dinner for the drivers and attendants. All those attending have a chance to win a door prize that has been donated by transportation vendor.”
Although the district is desperate for drivers, there is no program in place to encourage drivers to stay after they receive their Commercial Drivers License (CDL). With companies such as UPS freight and FedEx offering higher wages close to $20.00 an hour, it is no surprise drivers with CDL training are leaving. However, some are never hired due to the rigorous background checks.