Bus drivers still not enough

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Officials trying new ways to alleviate shortage


Staff Reporter

RESERVE-Officials are stepping up the effort to find solutions to the bus driver shortage in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Coburn said he is looking to a state resolution that says children do not have to be picked up within a one-mile radius of the school.

&#8220This is only an idea to help us with guidelines on how to fix the problem. We will not adopt this as our own policy,” he said.

Coburn said that this is only in discussion, and that the transportation shortage is so severe that the board will be looking at various solutions in order to alleviate the problem.

&#8220We have to consider the immediate needs of the school system. That means we will have to face this problem head on to alleviate the problems. Something has to be done now,” Coburn said.

One proposal he put on the table at the recent school board meeting was to consider not picking up children within a half-mile radius of the school.

&#8220If we were to establish a rule that children within a half-mile radius would not be picked up to ride the bus, we would save several bus loads,” Coburn said.

&#8220Our good permanent bus drivers are getting burned out, some have been known to make three or even four routes,” he said.

At LaPlace Elementary alone, the half-mile rule would save five bus trips. Three routes could be cut from the Fifth Ward schedule, and one route each at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, East St. John High and Ascension of Our Lord schools.

Another solution would be to centralize bus stops so that bus drivers would not have to stop at every home.

The problem with this idea said one board member, is that some of the parents would call to complain if their child has to walk 50 feet.

Dallas Burdell, a driver for the St. John system said that on one street alone it takes him 15 minutes to pick up all the kids.

Gerald Keller, president of the school board also requested that the permanent bus drivers offer suggestions on how to fix the problems as well.

Burdell said, &#8220Part of the problem is that there are just not enough qualified drivers in the parish to fulfill the needs of the system because you need more than just a commercial license to do this job.”

He doesn’t believe a pay raise will help in the long run because of the lack of candidates for the positions.

There is also an option to extend the bus drivers’ workday from six to seven hours so that children can get to and from school at a reasonable time.

&#8220Some of our kids don’t get home until 6 p.m. because the bus drivers have to make so many trips to bring kids to and from school. In situations like at East St. John High School children don’t get to school until after 8 a.m. and school begins at 7:15,” Coburn said.