GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — School systems are searching for solutions to ongoing bus driver shortages, and Wayne County is simply telling some new hires they have to train to take the wheel.
The Wayne County Board of Education recently approved a requirement for new custodians, cafeteria workers, and teaching assistants to obtain Commercial Driver’s Licenses and train as school bus drivers. Most of those employees will not have to drive on a regular basis, but they will be expected to fill in as substitutes when needed.
About 16 people are participating in a three-day CDL training course this week at the Wayne County Schools Department of Transportation offices.
Wayne County had 185 regular drivers at the end of the 2016-17 school year for its 193 routes. Director of Transportation Robert Lee said his department deals with constant turnover. Due to overtime restrictions as well as time off for illness and vacation, vehicle maintenance employees and other managers often have to serve as backup drivers.
“It makes the students get to school late if we don’t have a driver. For example, what we may often need to do is we may have to have a bus run a second route,” Lee said.
“The bus will go out and pick up the initial students and then have to go to a different neighborhood, which could cause the student to miss instructional time.”
Lee said support staff working for the schools before this summer will be grandfathered in and exempt from the new requirements. He said as new hires replace outgoing employees, the school system will have a great pool of available drivers to utilize.
One recent hire told CBS North Carolina the requirement is inconvenient, and said she likely would have reconsidered her application had she known in advance about the substitute bus driver expectation.
“It’s a win and lose. Some people step up to the responsibility and other people are just not comfortable operating a large commercial vehicle with a bunch of students on it,” Lee said.
New teaching assistant Melissa Jones said she is nervous about driving something so big, but she does not mind the added responsibility. She said she spent five years working towards her degree, and can spend a few more days completing bus driver training.
Jones said if this is a requirement she will gladly fulfill in order to have the job.
“I want to get in that bad enough, to be able to do what they require you to do,” Jones said. “I myself don’t mind. Some other people might, but for the teacher assistants and the custodians, if it’s part-time, I don’t see a big problem with it. It doesn’t really bother me.”
She said the extra work brings extra hours and extra pay. Lee said driving buses may also push some people past part-time status and make them eligible for benefits.
“If it requires us to do benefits, but it gets the students to school on time, we think that’s the most important thing,” Lee said.
Wayne County Public Schools considered other options such as staggering start times and some routes, but Lee said that method doesn’t get more buses and drivers on the road.