The current president of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation said that the new privatization of commercial driver’s license (CDL) test sites in Ohio will allow each school district to choose where new applicants are sent for exams.
“Our school district will have its first experience very soon with the new setup,” said Melody C. Coniglio, who is also the director of transportation for the Kenston Local School District near Cleveland. “We are confident that the process will be very similar in our area to those that were run by the state.”
Previously, Coniglio said new Kenston driver applicants had to travel an hour and a half to the nearest testing site. While the new procedure might require longer commutes for other districts, she added that her drivers’ travel times will be reduced by an hour. She said she had not received any negative feedback about the change from other OAPT members at this report.
The Ohio Pre-service School Bus Driver Training Program has won national awards for its curriculum, Coniglio added. Ohio law requires new school bus drivers to attend 15 hours of classroom training. Drivers who are completing six-year recertification are also required to attend nine hours of classroom training.
“There is [also] an onboard instruction time that is based on each learner’s ability to put the practical part of training in action,” Coniglio reported. “This time varies from trainee to trainee. The pre-service training documentation states that it should be a minimum of 12 hours of onboard instruction time.”
In Coniglio’s district, there is an average of about 30 to 34 hours of onboard instruction time. “I feel this is necessary for the safety of our children. I understand that individuals are looking to support their families as fast as they can, but when it comes to the safety of our children, I would rather we take the time that is needed to ensure that every person is safe,” she advised.
Statewide, the necessary time it takes the average applicant to obtain a CDL varies from person to person. “To obtain a CDL for purposes of school bus driving in the state of Ohio, it really depends on the individual training, and how well they retain and put to use what they are learning,” Coniglio said.
Coniglio added, “I have seen training take one month to as much as three months. Some of this depends on the time the individual has to train, and whether the district is paying them while they are training—or are they fitting the training in while they are working elsewhere.”
Bruce B. Berry, director of transportation at Black River Local Schools in Sullivan, said that he thinks that paying for an applicant’s CDL up-front will help to fill some driver vacancies. “Our district will reimburse a new driver after the driver has driven for 36 days as a substitute for our district,” he shared.
“The driver is to keep all receipts for CDL license, temporary permit and testing fees, fingerprint fees and pre-service classroom fees,” Berry explained. “These fees are associated with obtaining the CDL and Ohio School bus driver Certification. In June, the driver can submit the receipts for reimbursement to the Board of Education.”
While admitting that this process is not a complete solution, Berry concluded that the approach “has proven to be effective for us to help fill vacancies.”
Meanwhile, Sharon L. Conley, who is a transportation supervisor and the south region director of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation, said that her school district currently pays for pre-service classes, OBI training, T-8/drug, and alcohol, and reimburses for the initial CDL. So, the only up-front expenses that the prospective driver must incur are the price of his/her permit and BCI/FBI background checks.
“Even if there was no cost at all, I don’t think it would be a recruiting mechanism,” she observed. “It is difficult for individuals who are currently employed to take time off from their current employment for attending classes and for bus training. At present, all pre-service classes in our area are during work hours.”
Jay Price, the transportation supervisor at Mohawk Local Schools in Sycamore, concluded that he doesn’t think that “paying an applicant upfront for their CDL will help. What we do is, if they are an employee at the school and want to drive, we will reimburse the entire cost of getting their CDL after completion. If they are not an employee, we reimburse after their first 20 trips.”
Lori Carter-Evans, director of transportation for the Olentangy Schools Department of Transportation in Galena, is concerned about the absence of guarantees for the school districts.
Paying for an applicant’s CDL upfront, “may help in some cases, but we have no data to support it or any guarantees that the applicant will remain with the district that covers the cost of the CDL. Other requirements such as the background check and/or physical may work best for districts to pay upfront, since the districts become the owners of the records.”
Deb Graber, transportation director at Pettisville Schools in Pettisville, doesn’t think that paying for an applicant’s CDL up-front, would necessarily help fill some driver vacancies. “We pay for up-front costs, except for the CDL. I don’t think paying the additional for the CDL would make any difference.”
Editor’s Note: Read more about the school bus driver shortage in Ohio in this month’s Show Reporter from Columbus, Ohio.