If you want to become a school bus driver, now is probably one of the best times to do so because of the extensive benefits being offered in some areas.
School districts all over the nation are in such need of bus drivers that they are willing to offer good starting pay, full health benefits, and competitive retirement plans, in addition to paying for the commercial driver’s license. In some cases, the benefits offered to new school bus driver applicants are better than those offered to private industry executives.
In Osceola County, Florida, for example, school bus drivers have seen a pay increase from $13.85 an hour to $15 an hour, and the rate is likely to rise to as much as $16.50 an hour starting on July 1. Drivers are guaranteed a minimum of six hours a day of work, and there are many opportunities to pick up extra routes or to drive for field trips and sporting events. A driver who is willing to work nights and on weekends could earn as much as $65,000 a year.
The School District of Osceola County located south of Orlando pays for the commercial driver’s license process, a valuable credential that can be used in a wide variety of situations. On the day a driver begins work, they become a part of the Florida Retirement System, which is among the best in the nation, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation’s analysis of fiscal year 2019 funded ratio of state pension plan assets. School bus drivers become vested after only six years. This is a benefit rarely available outside of the public sector.
Also, bus drivers are eligible on the very first day of employment to receive a full health plan that includes dental, vision and life insurance. There are various plans available depending on employee contribution levels. Osceola also offers a health clinic that offers free services including some imaging, medications, blood work and therapeutic services. It offers Department of Transportation physicals at no cost. The Osceola District made on-route provisions so that drivers can focus on driving rather than dealing with student management issues, explained Arby Creach, director of transportation services at Osceola.
“What is unique to us is that our superintendent has told us to add a bus monitor for every bus we have. In the past, it was only for special needs students. This means the driver can focus on driving. We make our drivers permanent immediately and they have access to a Florida Retirement System pension immediately,” said Creach. “We offer these benefits to our bus attendants as well. They will start at $15 an hour on July 1.”
About 175 miles to the south, Broward County Public Schools offers some highly sought-after benefits to school bus drivers. The drivers are guaranteed 37.5 hours a week of work, and employees receive free health insurance, which includes medical, dental, vision and more. This is considered a $7,600 value. School bus drivers are enrolled in the Florida Retirement System and receive paid days off, bonuses for safe driving and attendance, and free training, which is considered a $3,000 value and free self-enhancement classes. There are job promotion opportunities and optional summer work available. Drivers can also go to school or work a second job. They can have plenty of leisure time and there is a good work-life balance. There is the opportunity to work with children, and it is good for people who like to drive and don’t want to be in an office setting.
Broward Schools offers a $500 sign-on bonus. New bus drivers receive $250 after completing training and reporting to their terminals and the other $250 after they complete 90 days on the job, said Cathleen Brennan, a spokesperson for Broward Schools.
Meanwhile, Jim Beekman, the past president of the Florida Association of Pupil Transportation and the director of transportation for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, said his district has raised the hourly rate drivers are paid from $14.57 to $16.04, offered recruiting bonuses, and held job fairs.
“We have gotten some drivers, but we have also lost drivers,” said Beekman. “The district also needs custodians and food service workers. To be a good school bus driver you need patience, attention to detail, even composure, and you have to love kids. You will be driving when traffic is bad and you have kids behind you and you must stay focused and calm.”
Beekman said that a bus driver who wants to work and takes extra assignments such as field trips and athletic events can make between $70,000 to $80,0000 a year. For some people, school bus driving runs in the family. Maybe their grandmother drove a bus and now their daughter drives a bus.
Kim Crabtree, director of transportation of Bend-La Pine Schools in Oregon, said she has also struggled to find and hire qualified school bus drivers. She is competing with other employers and offering a full range of benefits.
“We have full benefits for all drivers. We have a full retirement plan and competitive wages,” she said. “We pay for training, and we pay all fees and licensing. We offer lots of flexibility.”
The fact that La Pine is located near a ski resort makes it more appealing. People can drive in the morning and ski in the afternoon. “We are seeing younger applicants. We are also marketing to retired people who want to work,” she added.
And Crabtree stresses the fact that driving a school bus can be a lot of fun and a pleasant work environment. “Every day is different and when you are driving you have a corner office view. You can make a difference in the lives of kids. We work closely with the schools to help children,” she added. “If you drive for us, you get full benefits if you drive [at least] four hours a day.”
To encourage people to consider driving a school bus, the district offers prospective drivers a chance to take a test drive.
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David Uecker, transportation director for the Hutto Independent School District near Austin, Texas, said a pay increase has encouraged more people to apply to become school bus drivers. There are opportunities for drivers to work during the summer months and get extra money when driving for field trips and sporting events. Hutto ISD pays for CDL training and people go on the payroll when they are working toward their CDL. Also, drivers receive health benefits and are part of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. A driver who starts at around age 20 could get a substantial retirement after 30 to 35 years of work.
“It is not easy to attract drivers. We are competing with the oil fields and trucking companies,” said Uecker.
Todd Edwards director of school bus operations for contractor Miller Transportation in Indianapolis, said he is always looking for drivers and even provides bonuses for referrals.
“We need more drivers, and there are fewer people applying to become drivers. We are doing referral bonuses. We have a 401K and paid time off. We pay a portion of health insurance for drivers,” he said, adding that drivers are considered full-time.
He said the company promotes itself as a fun and pleasant company to work for. If people want to drive more, the opportunities are there, and people can drive all year long if they want to. “We don’t make assignments based on seniority. We base it on availability and if the person is best suited for a trip,” said Edwards. “We won’t send a person on a field trip to Chicago if they are more comfortable driving in a small town. We also offer a lot of flexibility and in some situations people can take the bus home.”
David Hartzell, Jr, the director of transportation for Harrison District Two of Colorado Springs and president of the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association, said his organization is aggressively promoting job opportunities and trying to get the word out through traditional advertisement and social media. Hartzell said he knows he is facing some tough competition and can’t really compete with commercial and delivery drivers and delivery drivers, as they are offered much higher salaries.
“They have higher pay rates, and they can offer more hours and full-time jobs,” said Hartzell. “We offer four to five hours a day while commercial drivers can work eight or more hours. We offer split shifts and about eight or nine months of work a year.”
School bus driving can be a pleasant job, even if it doesn’t pay as much. “Some people love driving school buses and helping children,” he added. “They may not want to work as many hours and they want to make a positive difference.”
Alfred Karam, director of transportation for Shenendehowa Central School district in Clifton Park, New York, said his district is short drivers but is not making changes to attract more applicants. “We have a quality operation. We are doing test drive events. We train people to drive buses and pay people for their training time. We offer access to the state retirement system,” he shared. “If you drive four hours a day, you get health benefits.”
He noted that many people choose bus driving because it offers flexibility and people don’t have to drive as much. “We attract a lot of retirees. There are people who want to work but don’t want to work as many hours and they want to drive buses,” he observed.
Edward Flavin, spokesman for contractor National Express, said his organization is seeing a significant bus driver shortage among its locations across North America. “We have not witnessed a shortage like this in over 100 years of our operations. The shortage has varied from region to region,” he said.
The company provides paid CDL training programs for drivers. “We have seen varying degrees of success with sign-on bonuses at our locations. We have adjusted our starting wages to be above average in most local markets and have seen some increased interest in our driver positions because of these efforts that are in place,” said Flavin.
Recruiting efforts have included both traditional and out-of-home media and methods such as online job boards, weekly open houses, job fairs, local events, radio spots, billboards, flyers, banners, going door to door, referral bonuses and more.
“We have been fortunate to have very supportive school district partners. They have supported us by helping us promote our open driver positions via social media and their school websites. They have also been open to and implemented various changes such as adjusting bell schedules, offering incentives to parents to drive their kids to school, encouraging their own staff to become school bus drivers, and more,” said Flavin.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools, meanwhile, is looking for bus drivers. Applicants must pass a medical examination and attain a CDL class A or B with passenger, air brakes and school bus endorsements. They will receive paid training to attain the CDL required endorsements as well as the school bus training with CPR certification.
Miami-Dade school bus drivers must have five years of licensed driving experience. Drivers are guaranteed seven hours per day and 35 hours per week and must be able to work a split shift. This means a driver must work 3.5 hours in the morning to pick up students and then return in the afternoon to take students back home. They will earn credit for their service in the State of Florida Retirement System, and will also be eligible for Health and Life Insurance benefits through the district and be entitled for 10 paid holidays and 10 paid sick days, explained Antonio Cotarelo, a spokesperson for Miami Dade Schools.
Knox County Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee is also seeking bus drivers. “If they can pass a background check, we provide them the training for a CDL in six weeks and we give them $900 while they are taking the classes,” said Ryan Dillingham, director of transportation for the district. He added that Knox County relies on contractors, as it has 342 bus routes, and the work is divided among 62 contractors.
Chicago Public Schools is also seeking bus drivers. District spokesman Evan Moore shared that the district is short 211 bus drivers however drivers are considered vendor staff and not CPS employees. The district and vendors continue to host bus driver recruitment events and to offer hiring incentives.