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Richmond County has questions as school year nears

Bus driver uncertainty could spell trouble for pupils, teachers, parents

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With less than a month to go before the first day of school, the Richmond County school system still doesn't know how many bus drivers it will have -- or need.

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Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Cynthia Heard-Brooks practices checking the air brake while being instructed by Tammy Stewart. The school system still doesn’t know how many drivers it will need this fall or how many will be on staff.

And it likely won't until very close to that important date, Aug. 8, partly because of how difficult it is to recruit drivers and determine how many of last year's drivers will return, Transportation Director Jimmy Wiley said.

"We're off to a good start, but I don't know right now who's not going to return for various reasons," he said. "We won't know until right before school starts."

Schools spokesman Louis Svehla said budget constraints are another factor in the uncertainty about the number of drivers needed. The school system is working to combine some routes, he said.

"The reason is due to the magnet support plan submitted to the board," Svehla said. "As we continue through this process and get closer to the school year, we will have a better idea of exactly what is needed."

When Superintendent Frank Roberson called on teachers and other district employees in Novem­ber to consider taking on bus routes for additional pay, the district was struggling to cover the routes to and from school.

With 158 full-time drivers transporting about 22,000 students a day, there was no room for error. Any absence for any reason would force some drivers to take on an extra route or two, causing students to be late.

What typically is a problem for school districts for the first couple of weeks turned into a yearlong saga for Richmond County, which never was able to reach its ideal level of 170 drivers.

Every day, principals and teachers across the district could almost count on students arriving late or waiting up to an hour after school to be taken home.

One parent at Garrett Ele­mentary, Mike McGahee, said his stepson had been dropped off or picked up late "every now and then" and sometimes was left standing in the rain or cold waiting for the bus with other pupils.

Even at Hephzibah Middle School, where bus drivers received high marks, pupils Marita Thomp­son and Brianna Hurst said they had been dropped off as many as 20 minutes after the tardy bell rang. Most of the time, they stressed, their bus was on schedule or close to it.

Wiley said recruiting drivers is a year-round process. One thing that makes it difficult is that they must have a clean driving record and pass a screening process, including criminal background check and drug test.

Because they have contact with children, drivers are required to have "good moral character," according to the Georgia Department of Education.

"We want to make sure every Richmond County school bus driver is highly qualified to transport our students," Wiley said. "There are no shortcuts. The test -- the training -- is rigid. We have to have qualified drivers behind the wheel of every Richmond County school bus."

Wiley said the amount of time spent on training and testing - all while would-be drivers are not drawing a paycheck - can be a deterrent. And like any job, there is turnover, including resignations and retirements.

Even with these challenges, Wiley said he is optimistic this year will go more smoothly than last year.

Drivers wanted

The Richmond County school system is looking for bus drivers, and no experience is needed.

Work is 10 months of the year; full- and part-time positions are available.

Salary ranges from $9.23 to $12.05 an hour, and medical, dental and retirement benefits are available.

Training is available for those who do not have a commercial driver's license, and it's paid for by the school system.
Overtime or night work might be required.

Applicants should go online to richmond.schoolrecruiter.net and click on "School Bus Driver."

Comments (11) Add comment
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12barblues
238
Points
12barblues 07/10/11 - 02:28 am
0
0
Does anyone know the status

Does anyone know the status of the superintendent? Is he coming back? I haven't heard one update on his condition. We desperately need his leadership.

corgimom
33158
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corgimom 07/10/11 - 06:31 am
0
0
"and sometimes was left

"and sometimes was left standing in the rain or cold waiting for the bus"

Buy your kid a warm coat, a raincoat and an umbrella, and this won't be an issue.

What is wrong with people today? These same delicate, precious, dainty kids are the ones who tell you at recess "I don't like wearing a coat" and want to go outside to play in 30 degree weather in a T-shirt.

My son walked to and from school every day in Wisconsin- rain, snow, below-zero degree weather- and he survived nicely.

Sheesh.

ironpurps
186
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ironpurps 07/10/11 - 10:25 am
0
0
Transportation issues were

Transportation issues were the worst ever in the county last year. If the new transportation director can't improve early this year, someone competent must take over the position. Period. Also, most of the drivers are excellent. However, some have become belligerent especially since they have 'unionized.'

Just My Opinion
5703
Points
Just My Opinion 07/10/11 - 11:27 am
0
0
You know what? If I were

You know what? If I were older and retired, I'd think seriously about driving a school bus. BUT...the main thing that would keep me from doing it is the hassle of having to put up with the smart-aleck little jerks that pass as students! If I were to tell a kid to be quiet, or to stop bothering someone else, or to sit down and they didn't listen to me, then why should I have to put up with that for a measly $10 an hour? I remember when I went to school, I had 2 bus drivers that didn't put up with any crud..Mr. Bailey and Mr. Toole. If things got out of hand, they'd pull the bus over and we'd sit....and sit...and sit, until everyone shut up! These drivers knew that, eventually, the will of the silent majority would take over, and the "rabble-rousers" would be pressured to behave. We knew that we'd be the ones who got into trouble by either being late to school or getting home late..all because of the loud mouth punks on the bus.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 07/10/11 - 01:34 pm
0
0
FYI- the link at the bottom
Unpublished

FYI- the link at the bottom of the article does not work!

Sweet son
10547
Points
Sweet son 07/10/11 - 02:14 pm
0
0
Build one of those out-house

Build one of those out-house looking shacks by the curb for your children in inclimate weather. Don't get mad, I'm just kidding!

Hey corgi, did you ever look at wimp.com videos of the corgi dogs? July 6th

S.Dunn
0
Points
S.Dunn 07/10/11 - 02:56 pm
0
0
To all who have their sweet,

To all who have their sweet, respectful, well desciplined children who ride richmond county school buses. Until you have done my job then you have no room to knock what I do. Buses driver's have to be driver's, counselors, attendants, nurses and babysitters when you are not there to get them. To you ironpurps some were that way before the union.So until you do our job, Don't judge just do your part in the chain of education.

S.Dunn
0
Points
S.Dunn 07/10/11 - 02:57 pm
0
0
To all who have their sweet,

To all who have their sweet, respectful, well desciplined children who ride richmond county school buses. Until you have done my job then you have no room to knock what I do. Buses driver's have to be driver's, counselors, attendants, nurses and babysitters when you are not there to get them. To you ironpurps some were that way before the union.So until you do our job, Don't judge just do your part in the chain of education.

corgimom
33158
Points
corgimom 07/10/11 - 07:36 pm
0
0
There isn't enough money in

There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to be a bus driver. I couldn't take it.

They do an extremely difficult, thankless job, and they all have my admiration and respect.

corgimom
33158
Points
corgimom 07/10/11 - 07:39 pm
0
0
Sweet son, thanks for the

Sweet son, thanks for the link. I watched it and laughed.

My corgi is the most intelligent dog I've ever had. He's so smart, it's scary. He THINKS about things and figures them out.

Training is easy, but yeah, I have to stay one step ahead of him.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 07/10/11 - 09:34 pm
0
0
Transportation problems are

Transportation problems are less-relatively important to the success of the RCSS than are problems involving disruptive classroom/school climates, student indifference, nepotism, pusillanimous legal leadership and system unwillingness to implement vigorous community information and involvement strategies.

lynn7044
190
Points
lynn7044 07/10/11 - 11:33 pm
0
0
Well,I have had major

Well,I have had major disagreement with the transporation director. He and his staff is very lazy. I have not seen them in the area getting bus zones in order. Waiting until a week before is bad business. When school start this year the bus will not come to the top of the hill and turn around, the driver choices not to drive up in the sub-div will stop.So get out the office and start getting routes in order now. There are new homes that are being built everday day. I will stay on top of the bus drivers and the director so when they come to Walton Farm they will come in the right way. They will do right by all ours kids in the area.Waiting until a week before school start is crazy do your job all year long and don't waste time during the summer.

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