School bus drivers needed in Pasco County
LAND O' LAKES - The Pasco County School District plans to begin training a new crop of bus drivers as soon as winter break is over. But finding drivers isn't easy, even with the weak economy. Gary Sawyer, the district's transportation director, told the school board just before the break that the district is down about 30 drivers. He said that was a bit surprising, considering the slow recovery from the recession that has left plenty of people jobless.New driver training begins Jan. 8. Applicants must complete the school bus operator class, pass the test for a commercial driver's license and undergo background checks before they are eligible to be considered for a job opening. The district has faced driver shortages before, and in the past officials have acknowledged it can be a high-stress job that's not right for everyone. The Hillsborough school district is having an even more difficult time finding drivers, with about 150 openings. To combat the situation, Hillsborough has come up with incentives, such as allowing drivers to keep their buses at home and providing bonuses to drivers who help recruit other drivers. High turnover has contributed to the problem in the past, but Pasco has been doing a better job of hanging onto drivers once they are trained. Sawyer told the school board in October that employee retention has improved markedly. In the 2007-08 school year, the retention rate for newly hired bus drivers was 42 percent. By 2011-12 that improved to 82 percent. "We believe our training program is responsible for better preparing these folks," Sawyer said. The starting pay for a bus driver is $11.25 an hour, and the drivers are guaranteed a minimum of six hours daily, with most routes longer than that, according to the transportation department. Drivers work a split shift because they take students to school in the morning and return them to their bus stops at the end of the day. For example, a shift might be 6:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Schools have tiered starting times, so drivers might start the morning delivering high school students and end it with elementary school students. Drivers also can pick up extra cash by getting on a rotation to transport students for extracurricular activities, such as field trips or athletic events. More information about employment as a driver is available by calling the transportation training and safety office at (727) 774-1862, (813) 794-1862 or (352) 524-1862. Transportation officials will return from the winter break Jan. 7. Pasco has 388 buses that serve 78 schools. The school district transports about 37,000 students to and from school each day. Generally, a student must live more than two miles from school to ride a bus. Otherwise, the school district receives no funding from the state to help cover the cost of transporting that student. Sometimes exceptions are made for hazardous conditions that could make walking to school too dangerous.
Reporter Rob Shaw contributed to this report. [email protected] (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO