With a little over a month until Carroll students return to school, the need for bus drivers for the upcoming school year is becoming more apparent.
And while Mike Hardesty, director of transportation with Carroll County Public Schools, said this is something that happens every year, the 2018-2019 school year is likely to see more of a shortage of drivers due to the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act.
The legislation was initially passed by the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session, but Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the sick leave bill. The 2018 General Assembly session opened with an override of the veto, meaning Maryland companies with 15 or more employees are required to provide them with earned sick and safe leave, among other specifications.
“We know some of our major contractors with a large number of buses to man for the opening of school are working hard to make sure they have an adequate number of full-time and part-time drivers,” Hardesty said.
But this year especially, contractors are looking to have enough substitutes, he said, to cover drivers who will be able to take more time under the sick leave policy.
“They have to have adequate subs to cover for that,” he said.
Hardesty said he’s still waiting for the contractors to give him full feedback on the results of the mandatory paid sick leave, but it’s clear that it will have an effect.
“It is having a serious impact on absenteeism,” he added.
Carol Johnson, the owner of Johnson Bus Service LLC, a contractor with CCPS, confirmed the concern over paid sick leave’s impact. Johnson said they need more drivers, especially part-time.
“There’s definitely a [driver] shortage in Carroll County,” she said.
Johnson said her company employs 60 drivers, all of whom work in Carroll. For the upcoming year, she said, her company could easily use four or five more drivers.
Johnson said this type of job is great for someone who may work shifts that change or are at night, in the morning or during the weekends, offering free-time during specific hours.
“We’re more than happy to use people when they’re available,” she said.
Drivers can drive mornings — which usually run 6 to 9:30 a.m., or evenings — which run from about 1:45 to 4 or 5 p.m., she said. Some drivers just do sports or field trips or weekend events.
Hardesty said while there is some concern from contractors right now, the start of school is still more than a month away. It is his expectation that CCPS will not miss any routes, he added. And, he said, contractors often help each other out if just a handful of them are short on drivers.
They’re good about sharing substitutes if they have to, Hardesty said.
Most recent numbers show there are 384 drivers who drive Carroll County routes: 228 assigned to regular, full-time routes and 156 part-time or substitute drivers, he said. A person who is not full-time may just drive a morning or afternoon route, or may only come in a few times a year.
In the 2017-2018 school year, Hardesty said, there were 261 bus routes. The drivers cover those, as well as athletic trips and field trips.
CCPS tries to help bus contractors by sending out calls for employment to parents on a fairly regular basis, Hardesty said, adding that so far, they’ve seen a good response.
Hardesty said those interested in becoming drivers need to pass a number of qualifications, including being 21 or older, having no evidence of a criminal history, passing a physical examination, having a negative controlled substance test, having a commercial driver’s license with passenger and school bus endorsement, no more than two current points on their license and a satisfactory past driving record.
Drivers also need to go through a 2 1/2-day in-service training session, he said.
Drivers have to pay to get their commercial license, but, Hardesty said, many contractors will reimburse the cost for the drivers they are sponsoring.
In addition to the requirements, one of the biggest needs is for a driver to have the disposition to work with children and manage student behavior all while operating a bus.
“The basic requirement we want is someone with the driving skills and someone that enjoys being around students,” Hardest said. “It’s always a challenge to find the right people … to drive school buses.”
Hardesty said driving is a great option for individuals who have retired from a profession and who are looking to do something in their retirement.
“I think it’s a rewarding and valuable experience for anyone who does it,” he added.
Johnson also said drivers find the job important, and often get attached and build relationships with the children.
“Most of the drivers that I have find a lot of fulfillment. They enjoy working with the students,” she said. “They get very attached to the students. They like to see them grow up and graduate.”
Those interested can find out more by contacting Dianne Grote with the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association at 410-848-4649 or the CCPS Transportation Services Department at 410-751-3229.