Driver shortage will be covered with in-house staff

By Trina Trice

The Clayton County school system is sending out school buses with a shortage of drivers when school starts Monday.

But the Transportation Department staff will be covering the routes, said Ronnie Blake, assistant superintendent of Auxiliary Services.

The school system has 466 buses and more than 350 bus drivers.

"We have enough people, including our staff, to cover all our routes," he said.

The school system just hired between 12 and 15 drivers, however, Blake estimates the Transportation Department will be short between 10 and 12 drivers when school starts.

"We've had some to resign this week," Blake said.

The reason that some newly hired bus drivers quit can be attributed to the rigorous training they have to go through before driving a busload of students.

Bus drivers undergo a 15-day training period that includes five days in the classroom, five days of road training, and five or six days of "vehicle" lessons which requires knowing the ins and outs of a bus' structure.

Lindy Krebs, a bus driver for 14 years, is a classroom trainer.

"A lot of people come with the assumption that you turn the key, make sure everything's clear, and you drive off," Krebs said. "But it's more time consuming than people realize. We're not assuming you know anything, you have to show us."

Bus drivers are also subjected to a background check.

Not only is training geared towards a potential school bus driver learning how to successfully operate a bus, he or she must learn student management, student control and safety.

Clayton County school buses were involved in two major road accidents earlier this year. Fatalities were involved in both accidents. In both instances, no one on the bus was killed. But in one case, two students driving a car that hit the bus were killed.

Road accidents are a concern that has always been addressed in training, Blake said.

"Generally, we don't have serious accidents," he said.

Sharon Johnson, a driver for 26 years, continues to drive because she loves the children, but knows keeping them under control is important for safety.

"There's always a possibility of an accident when you drive on the highways or city streets on a regular basis," she said. "But I don't let that fear dictate my life. I am aware of it and I try to be cautious.

"I'm pretty serious about (discipline) ?cause it's a safety issue," Johnson said. "I'm pretty strong on discipline. I explain to (students) why (behaving badly) is a safety issue."

Johnson plans to talk to her students, she drives routes for Lee Street Elementary School, Roberts Middle School, and Jonesboro High School, about behavior that can cause safety hazards.

"I love the job and I love the kids," Johnson said. "It gets me out and about. When you're on the road you see something different everyday."