System holding drive for drivers

By Greg Gelpi

Rows upon rows of yellow school buses line the parking lot of the transportation department, but now the school system is making sure it has enough drivers for those buses.

The Clayton County school system is rounding up applicants and trying to fill driving slots for the coming school year, which is less than a month away.

Diane Adams-Harris drove public buses in Tampa, Fla., but school buses could present a new challenge, she said.

"I never really had to say anything to my passengers on the bus," said Adams-Harris, an applicant for a bus driver position.

Discipline will be an added twist to the driving, but Wavemma James said she wants to be a bus driver because of the hours.

"I like it because you're off the same hours as your kids," James said.

Gloria Rose said the hours are enough for a part-time job, something she wanted after recently retiring.

The hours drew Sylvia Smith to apply to become a driver as well.

With announcements on the marquees of all the system's schools, the transportation department has put the word out, said Michael Jennings, the director of transportation for the school system. The department has also gone out with field teams to locations throughout the county to recruit drivers. Setting up booths, the department has hit grocery stores, the Department of Labor and libraries.

"It gets more and more difficult to find people," Jennings said, explaining that the work force is becoming more skilled.

Jennings said the turnover for bus drivers is no higher than in years past, but that typically about 15 percent decide not to return at the end of each school year. In addition, the county's growth creates the need for more drivers.

"Growth is what kills us," he said.

A new subdivision could mean another bus for the fleet that already operates about 350 buses daily, Jennings said.

"You never have enough people when school starts," he said. "People quit and take other jobs."

A clean background check and a clean driving record are the most important prerequisites for potential drivers, Jennings said. Applicants must also pass classroom training and road training. Training includes learning the parts under the hood of the bus, first aid and driving with and without student passengers, said Shelia Byrom, a commercial driver's license trainer with the school system.

Applicants must also learn "student management," keeping the children seated and orderly, Byrom said.

"One glance in the mirror could take your eyes off the road and cause an accident," she said. "You have to start from day one teaching them."

So far, the department has had a number of applicants, including almost 100 one day, Jennings said.

Anyone interested in becoming a school bus driver can contact the transportation department at (770) 473-2835 for more information.