Hiring bus drivers and keeping them is improving in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, according to Norm Brumblay, chief operations officer for the district.
“Currently, there are 13 open routes,” Brumblay said. “[This is] not including people calling out sick, leaves of absence, or other types of leave… and this is roughly half of what we showed last year.”
Brumblay addressed the Montgomery County Board of Education Tuesday, Jan. 17, reporting that CMCSS currently has 230 bus drivers.
Fifteen drivers are now in training that could be driving buses within a few weeks.
Of the 243 routes during the school day, 192 are labeled regular routes, with 48 of them making double runs. There are 51 special-needs routes.
“We have reason to be excited,” Brumblay said. “If we did not have the double runs, there would be 61 open routes instead of 13.”
The school system continues to offer service without notifying parents that a bus is not available, according to Brumblay.
In addition to the double runs, drivers with short routes close to school will often run multiple routes when needed. Sometimes students will be merged from two buses onto one bus.
Additionally, 26 office staff and 13 mechanics who are all certified to drive and are called upon when needed.
“This is how we keep our buses rolling,” Brumblay said. “There may be delays, but we will not cancel.”
In order to recruit more bus drivers, the district has reached out into the community with job fairs.
This past year, 59 new drivers have taken advantage of the $1,000 sign-on bonus.
A new initiative recently put into place includes a seven-week, paid driver training program that allows trainees to be paid $10.05 an hour while learning their skills as an aide on a route they will be assigned.
“They will then know the students they will be serving,” Brumblay said.
Once that trainee passes the training course, and receives their CDL, they begin driving at the $19.59 rate.
It’s the new training program Brumblay believes has increased the number of hires in recent months.
In the 2021-2022 school year, there were 50 bus drivers hired, compared to 61 in the current, 2022-2023 school year to date.
Keeping drivers employed
Brumblay is hopeful that future data will show retention rates increasing by as much as 60% compared to last year.
“That’s huge,” Brumblay said.
Strategies have included an employee recognition program, a $1,000 referral bonus, stipends for extra routes and the increase in wages.
“We have a performance bonus for attendance, safety and performance,” Brumblay said.
Data shared with the board showed 24% of the drivers left during the 2021-2022 due to increased pay opportunities elsewhere. Sixteen percent left due to student behavioral issues and 14% retired, according to Brumblay.
The three reasons represented an estimated 54% of bus driver losses the previous year.
The district hired a student transportation safety and discipline coordinator who monitors bus conduct reports, searching for trends that may help the drivers, the supervisors and administrators.
Brumblay said the coordinator also analyzes data to manage corrective actions for repeat offenders and gives recommendations to drivers and administrators on students who may require additional assistance from counselors.
“We can feel the difference now,” Brumblay said.
Last year, in August of 2021, the district was at 54% of bus fleet staffing. That percentage grew, up to 71% staffing by January of this year.
Brumblay said the district has set a goal of filling the 13 open routes as soon as possible.
The transportation department will then focus on the double runs and hire more substitute positions.
“We are still about 73 drivers short of being whole,” Brumblay said. “But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Applying for a job
If someone is interested in applying for a position in the CMCSS transportation department, information is available at: cmcss.net/busdrivers
Positions include bus drivers, bus aides and bus monitors.
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