Some school districts short of bus drivers; at least one route suspended

Both Sequim and Port Angeles public school districts need bus drivers — right now.

But districts at the east and west ends of the North Olympic Peninsula — Port Townsend and Quillayute Valley — report that they are fully staffed, for now.

“We are desperate,” said Sequim’s district personnel specialist Karen Sande.

One of Sequim’s 21 bus routes, the one known as Woodstock, has been temporarily discontinued for lack of man- or woman-power.

And if a driver is sick, Sande said the district doesn’t have enough substitutes to call.

“It’s a part-time job, so it’s hard to get people in,” Sande said.

“It’s two hours in the morning, from 6:15 to 8:30, and two in the afternoon, from 2:30 to 4:30.”

Drivers start at $12.41 per hour after they complete 40 to 60 hours of training.

Port Angeles

In the Port Angeles School District, the need for more drivers is such that public information officer Tina Smith-O’Hara has been asked if she’d want to apply.

The Port Angeles district needs five more substitute drivers, said Jerry Eldred, transportation supervisor, on Thursday.

“Our office staff has been driving some of the shuttle routes,” he said, returning a phone call after having driven one such route himself.

“I think almost every school district has a severe shortage,” Eldred said.

“It’s hard to get people to drive any more.”

He said he knew of no reason for the shortage, but added, “It’s a nationwide problem.”

The Port Angeles district uses 26 regular route drivers and about nine substitutes, Eldred said.

Substitutes make the same pay as regular first year drivers.

This year, that pay is $16.59 per hour.

Depending upon the route a substitute drives, hours per day can range from two to eight, Eldred said.

His office offers training, having a driver trainer on staff.

School bus driver shortages come back around every year in Port Townsend and Chimacum, said Port Townsend School District transportation supervisor Diana Post.

“We have to scramble for substitutes,” she said.

It was a problem earlier in the school year, but not now, she said on Thursday.

The Quillayute Valley School District in Forks uses 10 drivers and five substitutes, said Tami Shaner, driver trainer.

“We’ve had our moments in the past,” she said on Thursday, “but we’re just really lucky we have the drivers we need.”

Enjoys the job

George Stuber, 50, hasn’t gotten rich in his 15 years driving Sequim’s kids to school, field trips and sports matches.

But he can’t sing his job’s praises enough.

Life on the bus has taught him patience, tuned his listening skills and turned him into a fast problem-solver.

“This job will change your life for the better,” Stuber said, “if you love kids.”

Piloting a bus full of 70 or so youngsters from ages 6 to 17 isn’t for the faint of heart, of course.

And Stuber, who also works as an aide on the special-needs students’ bus, said the rewards, though not much in the monetary sense, are rich.

“The kids are wonderful,” he said.

Glenda Carroll has been an aide on the special-needs bus for seven years.

When she first came on board, “she had all kinds of energy, so I nicknamed her Sparky,” Stuber said. “It stuck with her.”

Like Stuber, Carroll said the passengers make this more than a job.

“The kids are special to me,” she said.

In the Sequim district, which stretches from Gardiner to Blue Mountain, bus routes are named for cartoon characters — from the well-known to the Olympic-centric.

There’s the Motor Goat that lumbers up Lost Mountain, the Brown Rabbit on East Sequim Bay Road, Minnie Mouse, Bambi and Jiminy Cricket.

“This works out for the little kids,” said supervisor Jeff Gossage.

“Instead of a number, they’re looking for a cartoon character. With the older kids, though, they don’t like to say they’re taking the Bambi bus.”

Regardless of the students’ ages, a smile and greeting from the bus driver has the power to cheer them up at the beginning and end of the school day, said Sequim Superintendent Bill Bentley.

“The ones I talk to who’ve been doing this a long time get a lot of positive feedback from kids, a lot of recognition,” he said.

“I think that’s very satisfying.”

FOR INFORMATION ON bus driving opportunities:

ä Sequim School District: Phone 360-582-3260 or visit www.sequim.k12.wa.us.

ä Port Angeles School District: Visit the district’s central office at 216 E. Fourth St. or phone the transportation office at 360-452-9714.

________

Sequim Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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