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It’s back to school for USD 383 bus driver trainees

By Bryan Richardson

High school students avoid riding the school bus if they can, but about 80 adults have deliberately returned to the school bus … to drive.

That’s how many bus drivers USD 383 currently has, and they’re training even more for the upcoming school year. Transportation director Doug Messer said there are five openings, but the district will hire seven to ten drivers. “We always try to get more than we actually need because everybody will not always be here,” he said.

The transportation department handles all aspects of the training. Department officials also train crossing guards and bus monitors.

It costs the district $1,600 to $1,800 to train each driver, Messer said. The price includes the hourly pay for the trainee and trainers, printed material and cost of fuel. “We have to go to Junction City just for them to take the commercial drivers’ license test,” he said.

Messer said the district trains 15 to 25 people a year. “Because we hire so many people, we’re good at our job,” he said. “We’re good at training them.”

For someone without prior experience, Messer said it takes four weeks during the summer and six to eight weeks during the school year, when trainers are less available.

Head trainer Don Sturdevant, a 15-year employee for USD 383, estimated he has trained close to 200 people over seven years. He said about three-fourths of the trainees have no prior experience, meaning they have to go through the whole process.

That involves 12 hours behind-the-wheel training and 12 to 14 hours for CPR/first aid and defensive driving courses.

Sturdevant said the first week to ten days is spent inside watching videos and reading the material. “They come with the expectation that their work is only going to be on the bus,” he said. “That’s only half the work.”

The trainees spent Friday morning in a CPR and first-aid class. Sturdevant said bus drivers typically only have to perform basic first-aid practices. “We haven’t had any situations where we’ve had to use full-blown CPR,” he said.

Messer said there isn’t a particular group of people that seek to become bus drivers. “It’s all over the map,” he said. “We have college students. We have college graduates. We have retired folks.”

Brenda Tebbutt, mother of three including a sixth grader and 11th grader in the Wamego school district, spent the week refreshing information. She worked as a USD 383 bus driver during the 2007-08 school year.

“There were things we did this week that I had forgotten,” she said. “I’m glad I had the refresher.”

Tebbutt doesn’t mind the split shift with early morning starts and pickups after school in the afternoon. “I love the kids,” she said. “I also get more time with my own children. The people here (in transportation) are also amazing.”

Messer said the nature of the job is part-time without benefits other than sick and personal leave.

“It’s difficult to retain drivers,” he said. “I don’t always have 40 hours to offer every employee who walks through the door.”

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