School bus drivers are a rare breed
By Nancy Haus
School bus drivers. Who are they anyway? And do they really “bleed yellow?” Who are the people who get up at the break of dawn each morning to transport nearly 25 million of our kids twice a day in more than 400,000 school buses over 4.3 billion miles in the United States annually?
Who would respond to a classified ad with this job description?
Well, it just so happens there are lots of special people out there who love this job working as a skilled professional. In the Baldwinsville School District, baby boomers and retirees comprise a huge percentage of the more than 100 drivers on staff.
Today, over 512,000 commercially licensed drivers nationally transport children to and from school each day. Trainees spend 20 hours in a classroom and 20 hours behind the wheel with a trained instructor in an intense program designed to subject them to as many of the possible experiences that may occur in this type of career.
They submit to ongoing alcohol testing, criminal background checks, and extensive first-aid training programs to prepare them for what lies ahead.
Particularly for baby-boomers and retirees, the part-time nature of driving a bus appeals to their lifestyle needs, although moms are attracted to being able to get home when their kids do, and spending summers together.
Baby boomers are often winding down their careers and are no longer interested in “climbing the ladder of success.” Retirees have already ended their careers but not their lives and still want to keep active.
Drivers who so greatly enjoy handling the big yellow machines while interacting with the kids, and become so dedicated, are curiously thought to “bleed yellow.” These so-called “second-milers” can maintain discipline, never have an accident, know their yellow bus inside out, and bring a very special desire to go that extra mile for children. Baby boomers and retirees actually fit into this category very nicely.
The ‘front line’— Bus drivers are the front line of your kids’ school day, and often, the drivers’ caring ways become evident to students who begin to talk to them, even confide in them.
After all, baby boomers and retirees have lots of experience to draw from, and generally enjoy the kids they transport. The kids feel this and often need someone to talk to anyway.
Ongoing training and testing keeps them up-to-date on the latest transportation regulations with the result that the National Safety Council calls the school bus the” safest form of ground transportation in the United States.” It’s quite an honor that this group earns by their strict adherence to safety regulations, along with caring for their precious cargo.
Bus drivers have worked hard to lower the statistics for child injuries and mortalities on a school bus to 0.005, contributing to the school buses’ designation as the “safest form of ground transportation.”
Yet, 46 percent of students in grades K-12 still ride to school in private, unsupervised vehicles.
Working in a school district transportation department opens your eyes to who these people really are.
It takes a special person to concentrate on driving safely and managing kids amidst the noise, shenanigans, and sometimes profane language and behavior that occur on the bus.
Imagine yourself taking on this job for just one day and it’s likely the respect you have for your child’s bus driver would increase immensely.
Think about your child’s requests to get their bus driver a Christmas present, or to draw them a picture. They become a special person in the lives of your children, and your children become special people in the lives of the bus drivers, who commonly drop books, clothes, and cell phones off to their students’ homes—either by way of bus or on their own time.
True heroes— Bill Donaghey retired from the post office as an internal auditor after nearly 38 years.Within two months, he was bored with retirement and began searching for a part-time job.
In September, 2005, he began working as a bus driver in the Baldwinsville School District. Why drive a school bus?
“Well, I like kids, and I really enjoy the job. The income isn’t bad either,” says Donaghey. He had briefly driven school bus in the Solvay School District and was close to earning a small state pension. With another reason for signing on, he’s happy he did.
“The kids are great. We have a good understanding. They know my boundaries, and I know theirs, so we get along well. We work things out if there’s a problem,” he said. Donaghey expects that this will probably be his last year of driving.
Kevin Cunningham also came to Baldwinsville as a post office retiree. It took him a few months to seek a job, but he agrees with Donaghey that the “kids are great, and the free time, hours, and pay aren’t bad either.”
Jim Bannon retired from the world of marketing and soon afterwards decided he needed something to do. He had driven a school bus during college and was drawn to the perks of driving bus at this stage of his life.
For Bannon, the convenient hours, the time off, the proximity to home, and the lack of business-world stress are a real plus. “I enjoy the kids, who are usually well-behaved. But everybody, even in the marketing world, has a bad day now and then,” he said.
Now, Bannon is a school bus attendant due to eye problems and the strict requirements drivers have to comply with. Like the others, he feels bus drivers are “good people” who are primarily concerned about their kids, and who are dedicated to supporting each other on the road and off. There’s a special camaraderie that exists between the drivers and attendants.
Jack Harrington came to Baldwinsville from the Syracuse Sheriff’s Department. As an attendant, he rides on a bus for kids with special needs. These range from just helping some who have difficulty getting on and off the bus to wheelchair-bound kids. No matter how hard he tries to remain emotionally detached, he says, “I fall in love with each and every one of them.”
In Liverpool, Bob Peters is the director of transportation and he says, “Liverpool is comparable to Baldwinsville in terms of staff. Our demographics are just a little different.” He says, “I think the split between men and women drivers is pretty even.”
Nancy Westcott, director of transportation at Baldwinsville, sums it up by saying, “I have found retirees to be very dedicated workers, and students seem to interact with them as they would with a family member.”