Students across the Historic Triangle might participate in band, sports, or academic activities.
And they all have one thing in common: the school bus.
And for each bus, there is a driver with their own families, careers and backgrounds. But do students and parents really know anything about the people driving those big yellow vehicles?
“We have some drivers that work retail, some that do hair or nails. But our drivers come out without hesitation when they’re needed,” said James Lash, associate director of transportation and warehouse operations for York County Public Schools.
In York County, there are 121 regular bus drivers with six substitutes, all carrying around 60-70 kids on their bus during any given route. The drivers work on a three-tier schedule where they have a high school route first in the morning, then middle school and then elementary school.
That number fluctuates based on students moving to and from in the county, but Lash said that’s about average for a bus. He noted there is always a need for more substitute drivers as well.
Lash said there are a lot fewer students on the high school routes since a lot of them drive to school, but for the younger students there is still a lot going on during those routes that drivers have to be trained for.
“It’s a difficult job because the drivers have backs to students,” Lash said. “Administration handles discipline, but the bus drivers make sure the students safe.”
In Williamsburg-James City County, bus drivers are required to attend training sessions twice a year that involve teaching drivers how to prevent bullying on the bus.
But even before they can hit the road, drivers have to be prepared.
To be relied upon to safely transport hundreds of students everyday, bus drivers, both substitute and contracted, have to go through a total of 48 hours of training, half of which is spent driving on the road and 12 hours is spent driving with actual children on the bus.
But during all of it, the trainee is shadowed by someone from the transportation department.
In both counties, drivers are drug tested before being hired and then have the potential to be randomly selected for testing throughout their employment. But Lash said in his time working with the county, drug testing has never been a problem.
In addition, criminal background checks are run on the drivers.
Is it worth it?
Having to wake at the crack of dawn to shuttle children to and from school each day for just around $14 an hour probably doesn’t sound desirable for most people. But Lash said the county provides plenty of perks to entice people.
Regular bus drivers are contracted by the division in York County and offered all of the same benefits packages, such as retirement plans and health care, as any other employee working in the school system. In addition, drivers are allowed to take their young children on their bus routes with them so they don’t have to be in daycare.
“There are a lot of kids that grew up on the bus,” Lash said. “It’s kind of a win-win situation, it helps us win and retain bus drivers.”
Lash himself started as a bus driver more than 40 years ago so he knows drivers have lives outside of their routes. He said the system tries to work with drivers as much as possible. In fact, he said many of the drivers use the experience to help them become teachers later on.
But while they’re behind the wheel, a bus driver maintains safety as priority.
“A lot of staff are licensed school bus drivers,” Lash said. “Our drivers come out when needed, without hesitation.”