SCHOOL BUS DRIVING AND PERSONNEL NOTES
Although we are experiencing employment challenges across many positions in school systems recently, I would like to focus attention this week on one particular role. The ROCORI School District does not have its own school bus system as we contract with Voigt Bus and Richmond Bus for transportation services. Even though we contract for services, the need to have quality, effective bus drivers is still an important issue to the ROCORI Schools. I would like to take some time this week on the topic of driving school bus. Both contractors, Richmond and Voigt Bus, have helped with some of the details within the notes.
As I have noted, the ROCORI School District does not have its own bus fleet. Since the beginning of the district, there have been two transportation contractors as part of the system. Richmond Bus Service, in the Feldhege family, has served the district from the start! Voigt Bus Company purchased the service area that previously belonged to Rockville Bus. Voigt’s have been with us for about a decade!
Our district, since the completion of our construction project, has operated on a single-tier bus system. This means we transport all students to school at one time—a single tier. With the single-tier, we operate about 25 bus routes in order to cover the entire district and serve all of our students and families.
As a district, we offer transportation to all students. For the most part, this is because of the nature of our system with all the lakes and rural areas as well as the two county highways that border our Cold Spring campus. Although state statute does not require transportation for elementary students within a mile of the school site or secondary students within two miles of the school site, the hazardous nature of both county highways makes it necessary to offer transportation to all students.
Bus drivers are directly employed by our two contractors. Richmond and Voigt Bus are responsible for all parts of the hiring process, to ensure that drivers meet all requirements, and scheduling of the time and services for drivers.
Given some of the turn-around in the economy, there is currently a very “tight” market for bus drivers. Both Voigt and Richmond Bus are in need of candidates to drive bus on a regular basis, substitute drivers who can fill in in the absence of regular drivers, and individuals who may be willing to drive for events or activities.
Employment, for both contractors, begins by securing and completing an employment application. They are available at the bus companies in Richmond or St. Augusta. Once the application is complete, the bus companies will help walk candidates through the appropriate steps and certifications.
Dave Feldhege, Richmond Bus, offered me the following comments regarding the requirements for drivers. “We give you the material so you can study for four written tests from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).” The written tests cover General Knowledge, School Bus Endorsement, Air Brakes and Passenger Endorsement. Dave noted that each of the tests must be passed with an appropriate score.
“Once you have passed all four,” Dave explained, “you bring us your certificate of completion. In the meantime, we will have done a criminal background check on you. This is to ensure the integrity of the people driving for us and to maintain the safety of the children in our care.”
Once the four tests have been taken, our contractors will start training drivers in one of the regular school buses. Although driving a bus may seem intimidating, Dave Feldhege suggested, “You will find that most of our vehicles are a lot like your car only bigger. They have power steering, power brakes and automatic transmissions.”
Drivers are expected to learn everything about your bus—from what’s under the hood to the lighting systems. The knowledge of the bus is necessary so drivers can ensure that each bus is in perfect working condition inside and out each time it is on the road.
Drivers must also be in good working, physical condition. During the training process with the buses, drivers are expected to have a physical complete by a provider who is certified in performing DOT (Department of Transportation) physicals. The physicals can be done at most clinics, but they must be by DOT certified physicians.
Once the driver and trainer are confident that the candidate knows the bus inside and out, the driver is ready for the road test. The trainer and driver will take a bus to the DMV to complete it.
Once the road test is passed, the driver will get another certificate of completion and will receive a new license with all the new, appropriate endorsements listed on it. Once drivers have passed both the written and practical tests, a pre-employment drug and alcohol test is given.
At the point a driver has passed all of the tests and has secured the school bus endorsement, the fun of driving school bus will begin. It is at this point that both contractors will take the time to train each driver on the specific route so drivers get to know not only the physical route area, but also the children that will be transported.
Dave Feldhege explained what is expected once a driver is employed. “Our drivers are required to attend monthly meetings. We do driver’s license checks every year and random drug and alcohol testing throughout the year. All drivers must renew their DOT physical every one to two years dependent on health status and the written test for the school bus endorsement every four years.”
“When you look at all that you have to complete to become a school bus driver,” Dave commented, “it looks like a daunting task. All drivers must go through this process – this is one way that we ensure the safety of our students in our community. Be assured that we help you through each and every step and it is definitely worth the effort.”
Dave concluded his comments with this thought. “Once you become a driver, be prepared to build long-time friendships with great kids and fellow drivers.“
CONGRATULATIONS AND MILESTONES
There are several notes of personnel change or recognition that I should take time to recognize.
We have known, for a little while that Joel Baumgarten was named as the Region 8 Activities Director of the Year. This is a great honor extended to Joel by his peers—Activity Directors across the region! The recognition also means that Joel is in consideration for state level recognition. He will learn, at the state convention, about the state award. Congratulations, Joel!
Judy Martinez-Sones, who has served for the past two and a half years as an Assistant Principal at the High School was offered an administrative leadership role at a school in Crystal, Minnesota. Judy’s last day in ROCORI was January 23 and she has begun her service in her new assignment. For those who worked with Judy, she definitely brought energy, enthusiasm and passion to her role. It is a great opportunity for her, personally, to move to the Crystal school! We wish her well in the new position!
With Judy’s departure, we had to conduct a search for a replacement Assistant Principal. Based on the time of the year and the amount of time remaining in the school year, we made a decision to offer the assignment to Nate Guetter. Nate has been moved into an Interim Assistant Principal role for the remainder of this school year.