Training for school bus drivers for area school districts began this past Monday (Feb. 3) with the goal being to address a shortage of drivers at Yuba-Sutter school districts.
Marysville Joint Unified School District is short seven drivers and Yuba City Unified School District is short five drivers.
The Appeal-Democrat reported the same shortages in September 2019 at both districts.
Rochelle Laird started driving school busses for Yuba City Unified in 1978 and became a behind-the-wheel trainer in 1991 and a state-certified instructor in 1998.
She still works for the district as a training department supervisor. She also teaches bus driving classes through Yuba College.
A friend of hers who was a school bus driver suggested she become a driver.
“At first I laughed,” Laird said. “There’s no way.”
However, she said her love for driving and kids made her give it a try.
“I loved it,” Laird said. “In fact, when I got my first paycheck, I felt like I was stealing.”
Yuba City Unified’s Director of Transportation Sonia Lasyone said people think incorrectly that a school bus driver is the equivalent of a custodial position and don’t know where to look for jobs as drivers if they are interested.
She stressed that the position if just for school bus driving and is a state job with guaranteed retirement. School bus driver openings are listed on edjoin.org. The pay range for drivers working for Yuba City Unified is $18.19-22.11 per hour, according to Lasyone. However, drivers are paid per month despite working 180-185 days during the school year. Their pay for the year is determined and then divided by 12. Drivers get an automatic pay increase for up to five years.
Laird said bus drivers working for Yuba City Unified are represented by the California School Employees Association.
In addition, she said drivers can pick up additional work either in the form of a second job or drive during the summer and still receive a paycheck for their normal driving duties.
Most drivers’ work are done with the morning route around 9 a.m. and begin pickups around 2 p.m., according to Laird.
Laird said one of the reasons for the shortage is the steps that a prospective driver has to take before getting behind the wheel of a bus full of kids.
“We’re the highest regulated entity in the state of California,” Laird said.
The first step is classroom training where students learn about driving laws, the brake system on a bus, defensive and special driving, emergency procedures, culminating in a written test.
After passing the test, prospective drivers begin driving school, get their class C license through the DMV, are interviewed and fingerprinted by California Highway Patrol and finally are drug tested by the school district. Laird said in her experience it takes at least 20 hours or classroom and behind-the-wheel training before a driver is ready.
Yuba City Unified Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Robert Shemwell said the district has revised its training program to have more of it done in house.
He said there are a number of individuals who are going through the program right now.
He said the district is anticipating some retirements in the not too distant future, meaning getting more people trained as drivers is critical. The shortage of drivers is not unique to Yuba-Sutter, according to Shemwell.
“There’s definitely a shortage across the state,” Shemwell said.
He said a strong economy and low unemployment has contributed to the shortage. In addition, he said because the position is so heavily regulated it takes a while to get someone into the job because of the training required.
Shemwell said the number one priority for the district is home-to-school service, followed by activities tied to athletics or classroom activities and third are the non-mandatory field trips. He said none of those three have been cut out completely due to the shortage but said the district has had to manage the resources at its disposal to maintain services.
“We kind of have to balance each of those categories,” Shemwell said.
Marysville Joint Unified School District Superintendent Gary Cena said the district is hoping to hire six or seven new drivers from the group that began training on Feb. 3. The district’s Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Ramiro Carreón said it is difficult to fill bus driver positions because of the time it takes to train them and that not everyone has the time to dedicate to the 40 hours of total training needed before starting.
“Most jobs, people jump into and immediately start working,” Carreón said via email. “But those jobs don’t have the level of responsibility or the rewards of driving our students.”
MJUSD drivers are affixed to a six-step wage range that starts out at $18.23 per hour and tops out at $23.28. Carreón said negotiations for the current year haven’t been finalized and could increase.
He said drivers are represented by Operating Engineers Local Union #3 and get longevity increases at six, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of service by as much as 20 percent.
“Our district pays well above the state average,” Carreón said.
The district is hoping to add two general education routes and one special needs route with the new hires, according to Carreón.