CLINTON COUNTY — Safety is the key priority for local school bus personnel.
But “crazy” is how Barb Prater, transportation supervisor for Blanchester Schools, describes their daily routine.
The hardest part of this sector is getting drivers, she said.
“In the morning you’re good. Then people call off … so you’re scrambling a lot trying to get things covered,” she said.
To become a school bus driver, one must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) — specifically Class B, which covers school buses along with other large buses.
“It takes a while to train,” said Prater, a bus driver herself before becoming supervisor. “It usually takes a couple of months.”
Also, drivers must have a good record and pass a background check.
She added that another issue is that the work is part-time, and that’s not what many people want.
While some of the drivers’ experience is similar to Jim Burke — who drove for UPS prior to driving a school bus — a lot of them are parents. “It starts off with moms so they can be home with their kids at the same time. Some just stayed over after the kids graduated,” said Prater.
Sometimes they get farmers, but they only can only get them post-harvest.
A typical day begins with making sure drivers come in, get ready for the route, and informing them of any new students they might have. If a driver is absent, they’ll have to find a substitute, which can be tricky.
Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation departments have had to take extra precautions.
Curt Bone, Director of Business Operations for Wilmington City Schools, has similar policies to Blanchester with bus transportation during these times.
“We have a multiple-layer approach,” said Bone. “Before school started, the buses were completely cleaned down. Once they were clean, we put down a coating called bio shield which will last for 60 or 90 days.”
At the end of the day, the buses will be washed down completely. Each also features hand sanitizer as well as spare masks if a student doesn’t have one.
If there is one thing folks in the transportation department want people to know is that they’re not a taxi service.
Stephen Ford, Clinton Massie’s Support Staff Supervisor, said they have a policy in place now (due to the pandemic) where there will be one pick-up and one drop-off location.
“We understand that emergencies happen and we try to cover that when it happens. Other than that, we can only use the address given,” said Ford.
Ford also wants locals to realize is that when a school bus stops and the red flashers are on, that means “Stop.” It’s also the law.
“People need to assume that if they’ve stopped and the flashers are on, that means a child is getting off or on,” said Ford.
He indicated they’ll also reach out to other districts to see how roads were in their areas.
Safety is the most important thing to school transportation people because there’s more to being a bus driver than simply getting students to school.
Another thing that every district has to do — pandemic or not — is to brace themselves for snow and make sure it’s safe for buses to travel on.
Ford told the News Journal that he along with other members of the staff and the superintendent will go out and drive the routes to see if the roads are safe.
“After we’re done driving, we’ll tell the superintendent our findings. But the final decision is up to (the superintendent),” said Ford.
Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574