Franklin seeking to increase pay, training for bus drivers

Every day, local school districts need dozens of people to drive students to and from school. But finding those drivers is getting more difficult.

At Franklin schools, if a bus driver calls in sick, other employees such as mechanics or the transportation director often have to step in to get students to and from school, said director of operations Bill Doty. One day, 11 bus drivers called in sick, forcing nearly every employee with a bus driver’s license to get behind the wheel that day, Doty said.

“We want to get away from that. Those folks have a job, and we need them doing that job,” Doty said.

The number of people applying to be a substitute bus driver is low, so the school district has had a hard time finding consistent replacements if someone calls in sick or takes a day off, Doty said. Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson and Greenwood schools have similar issues, where the list of substitute bus drivers is extremely short, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson superintendent Tim Edsell said.

The issue is one school officials have been concerned about. This school year, Superintendent David Clendening and other school officials have been spending time talking with bus drivers, riding buses and looking at drivers’ duties to try to find out how the school district can make the job more appealing.

Although officials anticipated wages would be the biggest concern among bus drivers, they also mentioned student behavior issues.

Starting this fall, anyone hired as a substitute bus driver will receive training on how to handle inappropriate or misbehaving children, as well as higher pay. But another request to provide health insurance benefits to all drivers and bus assistants, estimated to cost $600,000, just isn’t affordable right now, school officials said.

The hope is that the higher wages and extra training will entice more people to apply to be a bus driver for Franklin schools.

Officials are proposing an increase from the starting pay of $15.76 per hour to $18 per hour, Doty said. In addition, officials want to increase the pay for field trips and incentivize attendance for full-time bus drivers.

The goal also is to have more consistent substitute bus drivers, who can be at the transportation office every day. Currently, the school district only has one full-time substitute driver who is in the transportation department daily to learn routes and fill in as needed. Other substitutes who are on-call aren’t as reliable, since many are police officers or firefighters who could be called to work during an emergency, transportation director Doug Dickinson said.

And when a substitute bus driver is transporting students, children are more likely to act out on the bus, Doty said.

“When we have more subs, we know that we have more discipline problems,” Doty said.

In addition to increasing pay and adding more substitutes, the school district also wants to give employees training in classroom management, which will help teach bus drivers how to better handle large groups of students on the bus at a time. Teachers receive classroom management training for a group of 25 to 35 students, but a bus driver will have to handle up to 70 students at a time while also driving the bus, Doty said.

School board members are slated to vote on the changes next month and, if approved, they would take effect next school year.