IW finds it’s hard to keep enough substitute bus drivers

Published 1:51 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

For Isle of Wight County Schools Transportation Director Lee Livingston, keeping a consistent staff of substitute school bus drivers can be a bumpy ride.  

“It seems that when one gap gets filled, another one opens up,” said Livingston of his substitute roster at a School Board Meeting this month.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Livingston said that ideally, though he does have four or five go-to drivers available intermittently, he would like to have seven or eight full-time substitutes to fill in if one of the division’s 80 regular school bus drivers calls off, which will occur roughly seven or eight times a day.

As of now, he has zero. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“It’s kind of a revolving door,” said Livingston, who speaks in a calm, thoughtful drawl, and has an ongoing joke with School Board Chairman Julia Perkins that she will forget about him and his monthly transportation updates at board meetings (it happened twice).

If a regular driver calls in sick and there are no substitutes around, the division’s bus mechanics, who are also qualified to drive, will occasionally fill in, according to Livingston.

However, if the schools suffer a mechanical problem while the mechanics are out driving routes, obvious conflicts can occur.

“We try not to use them if we don’t have to,” Livingston said.

Roughly once or twice a month, Livingston himself will have to get behind the wheel to fill in for routes, though as with the division’s mechanics, similar issues arise if there is an emergency while Livingston is away from his desk.

Occasionally, when substitutes are not available, the division will also try to “double up” on buses, loading students from two separate routes, according to Livingston. But this is not always easy to do. 

“For efficiency, we keep them fairly full,” said Livingston of the division’s 80 bus routes. “It’s not something that we can do everywhere, but there are a few that we can double up on if we need to.”

The issues with keeping a steady fleet of substitute bus drivers on hand is nothing new or unusual for a division’s transpiration department, according to Livingston, who calls the problem simply the “nature of the business.”

And despite the struggles his department has had with it, Livingston said that, actually, compared to others, the division has had it pretty good.

“Quite frankly, I’m pretty satisfied with the way it is here,” said Livingston, noting that for the amount of bus drivers the division has, seven or eight call-offs a day is relatively insignificant.

“I’m just thankful that I don’t have the issue that some of the larger [school divisions] have,” Livingston said. “We have a dedicated staff here. We have a fair amount of drivers that have been here for a long time.”

Livingston said there are a few promising new substitute bus drivers currently in training with the department as well, some preparing to be certified before the holidays are through. But they are always looking for more, according to Livingston.

“It’s a job that can kind of be thankless at times,” said Livingston of school bus drivers. “You don’t hear anything until you hear the negative.

“But it’s a rewarding job for folks that take it to heart.”  {/mprestriction}