Durham County

Need extra cash? Consider becoming a school bus driver

Children ride a Durham Public Schools bus outfitted with seat and lap belts at Holt Elementary School in this 2016 file photo.
Children ride a Durham Public Schools bus outfitted with seat and lap belts at Holt Elementary School in this 2016 file photo. The Herald-Sun

Durham Public Schools’ transportation director, Scott Denton, hasn’t reached a level of desperation when it comes to filling out the ranks of school bus drivers.

So, there isn’t a need for parents to worry.

Denton is pretty certain that all of the district’s routes will have drivers when classes for schools on the traditional calendar start Aug. 28.

But Denton is worried about having enough substitute drivers for DPS’ 250 buses which transport 18,000 of the district’s 32,000-plus students each day, if too many drivers call in sick on any given day or have a family emergency and can’t make it to work.

“You can’t assume everyone will be at work every day,” Denton said.

Denton said he’d like to have a cushion of a least 18 drivers but will take more if he can get them because, if past is prologue, not all of the drivers whot have pledged to return this year will do so.

“I’d feel safe with 25 additional drivers because you never know who might not come back,” Denton said.

Meanwhile, in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, spokesman Jeff Nash said there are 68 bus drivers on the roster, and if everyone returns, CHCCS will only be six drivers short when classes start Aug. 28.

“We have nine substitute drivers that are available to drive,” Nash said. “So, on the first day of school, we will have a driver for every bus.”

He added that six people are attending bus driving classes this month, but won’t be permitted to begin driving students until mid-September.

“We will use subs for the first three weeks until these recruits are ready,” Nash said.

The Wake County Public Schools system is trying to recruit 70 new bus drivers this summer to fill what has been described by transportation officials as an “acute” shortage of drivers.

Wake launched a major recruitment campaign this summer that has included advertising on radio, television and Facebook, targeted emails and signs on school buses.

DPS held a bus driver recruitment fair on July 25, along with a substitute teacher recruitment fair, that drew only eight prospective drivers.

A second recruitment fair has been planned for Monday, Aug. 14 from 5 p.m., to 7 p.m., at the Staff Develoment Center, 2107 Hillandale Rd.

Prospective drivers can pre-register at https://goo.gl/1zmrwu.

In the meantime, Denton said DPS will begin to reach out to sustitute teachers, school nutrionists and others who might want to make extra money by signing on to become a bus driver.

He said DPS will also mine N.C. Central University’s School of Education for students who might want to become drivers.

“Hopefully, they’ll [NCCU students] want to get some experience in working with kids before graduating,” Denton said.

Want to drive?

Generally speaking, a school bus driver must be at least 18 and have at least six months driving experience as a licensed operator of a motor vehicle before employment as a regular or substitute driver.

The pay in Durham is currently $14.04 an hour and could increase by $1 dollar an hour as the result of funding approved by the General Assembly to increase school bus driver pay across North Carolina.

Denton said DPS is more stringent in some areas than the state when it comes to school bus driver qualifications.

He said, for example, a Driving While Impaired (DWI) conviction must be at least 20 years in the past before a once-convicted prospective driver can be hired to drive a school bus in Durham.

“Their standard is weaker than that,” Denton said of the state.

He said DPS’ 20-year rule for DWIs is a tough one but also fair to someone who might have gotten a conviction while in college, but has had a clean driving record since then.

“We try not to hold that against people forever, but at the same time we don’t want to take any chances with our children,” Denton said.

He said DPS also looks for patterns of dangerous driving and accumulations of violations when checking driving records.

And all bets are off if a prospective driver has ever passed a stopped school bus.

“We don’t allow anyone who has passed a stopped school bus to drive for us,” Denton said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Here’s how to become a school bus driver

Requirements and documentation

    Be at least 18 years of age.

    Be in possession of a valid NC DMV issued Commerical Driver License (CDL).

    Have at least six months of driving experience as a licensed operator of a motor vehicle.

    A valid health certificate.

    Your Current Driving Record

    Certify that your license is not suspended, disqualified or revoked.

    Certify that you currently do not hold more than one driver license.

    Medical & Physical Requirements

    Every school bus driver should be physically and mentally competent to operate a school bus with ease. To do this, you must be in good physical condition.

    If questions arise about a driver's physical condition, the DMV may require the driver to submit a completed medical report, before or after certification, provided by the DMV Driver License Section.

    Training, Testing

    The final steps toward becoming a School Bus driver is mandatory training, testing and paying the fees.

    Contact any Driver License Office to obtain a complete and current list of School Bus Driver Training Schools.

    To become a School Bus Driver you must:

    Enroll in a three-day School Bus Driver Training Class.

    Pass all required knowledge tests with 80 percent or better.

    Schedule behind-the-wheel training with a Driver Education Specialist (DES).

    Pass skills test.

    North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles