Bus driver shortage a problem in St. John Parish

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 13, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 13, 2000

RESERVE – A second study of the transportation system of the St. John theBaptist Parish School Board shows a lot of progress since the first report.

But there is a lot of room for improvement.

George Horne, president of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, told the school board the biggest problem with transporting students is a personnel shortage.

Superintendent Chris Donaldson agreed. “Our biggest problem is kids gettinghome late because of the driver shortage,” he said.

Horne told the board the St. John Parish public school system has a problemwith getting substitute drivers. As a result, when regular drivers get sick,there is nobody to take their place and individual drivers may have to run multiple routes in one day to get all the students home.

“This is a nationwide problem,” Horne said, “and the situation has gotten worse.”Horne blames the good economy for the problem. People are getting betterpaying jobs and they don’t need to supplement their income with part-time jobs like driving a school bus. Horne said one solution would be to recruitdrivers from people who do shift work or work offshore.

There are other problems with getting substitute drivers. First is the timecommitment to train to be a driver. A person must complete 30 hours ofclassroom training and 10 hours of actual driving to qualify for the commercial driver’s license.

“A lot of people cannot give up that much time,” said Horne. ” I suggest thatthe school board hold night classes for new recruits.”Horne also found a high incidence of absenteeism among the school bus drivers. He doesn’t know the reason, but he suggested the school boardadministration tell the drivers that unused sick leave can be cashed in at retirement. This might be an inducement for drivers not to use up all theirsick leave.

Another recommendation by Horne is that the school board expand the staff of the transportation department. Right now there are only two peopleworking in the office. This is just not enough people to run the departmentefficiently, he said.

Because of the nature of the transportation business, school buses are regulated by a lot of federal regulations. This means keeping good records.With only two people handling routes, absentee drivers and getting buses repaired, there is no time for good records to be kept.

“A lot of work needs to be done, ” said Horne. “You need more than twopeople to do this job.”Horne suggested the board hire an inspection and route specialist and somebody who can keep the records up-to-date.

Donaldson assured the board the administration will work with Horne’s recommendations and continue to work with the PTSI to improve the bus system. He said the administration has already addressed the substitutedriver shortage.

“We have lined up 20 people so far to get certified as drivers,” Donaldson said.

In other school board business: Donaldson told the board the school system enrollment on the 16th day of school was 6,279, a decrease of 69 students from last year. According toDonaldson this trend is statewide with other parishes reporting decreases in enrollment.

East St. John Elementary School was awarded a $10,000 grant for theINCLASS grant to train teachers and staff in new technology. Principal TexxGalloway and four teachers recently finished INCLASS training on the use of technology in the classroom.

The soccer coach of East St. John Elementary, David Roughneen, wasawarded a cash grant of $1,200 and an equipment grant of $800 from the U.S. Youth Soccer State Association to help promote soccer at the school. The board voted to accept the bid for property and casualty insurance from Dave Millet Insurance Agency. The insurance package will cost$275,530 and will be $20,000 less than last year’s premium.

Assistant Superintendent Wilbert Ocmond updated the board on the progress of getting a magnet school for the west bank. After severalmeetings the magnet school committee has recommended the school be designed for K-12 grades, be a total magnet school, all west bank students be given priority attendance to the magnet school, east bank white students be given priority attendance and transportation be provided to all students attending the magnet school.

The committee also narrowed the theme of the school down to three choices: robotics/animation, engineering sciences and visual and performing arts. Ocmond said surveys have been handed out to parents on thesechoices. The results of the survey will be released at the Sept. 21 meetingof the magnet school committee.

Return To News Stories