Bus rodeo highlights local driver shortage


VERONA — The need for school bus drivers right now is great and the union that represents drivers at many local districts held a bus rodeo on Tuesday to encourage job hunters to consider a job as a bus driver.

The Civil Service Employees Association’s event at the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School was designed to raise awareness about the shortage of drivers while also letting current drivers demonstrate their skills with a friendly competition.

Oneida County Educational Local 869 President John Brown said he couldn’t understate the importance of school bus drivers and their role in the lives of children.

“For people looking for a part-time job, being a driver is very rewarding,” Brown said. “The first thing a kid sees when they go to school is the school bus driver. The last person they see when they go home is the school bus driver. They’re going to remember that person more than the building principal.”

The driver shortage isn’t just at large companies, like First Student, which is in the first year of a new contract to provide transportation for the Rome City School District but also several smaller local school districts which maintain their own bus fleets and employ their own drivers. Brown spoke highly of the people working as bus drivers now, who are connecting to students and in new ways. Besides a pat on the back or a word of encouragement, other bus drivers are making use of Facebook to keep parents informed and vice-versa. “This way, the parent can let a driver know someone is going to be there in a different car,” he said. “Because a lot of bus drivers pay attention to that. If they haven’t seen a specific car parked at that house, they’re going to wait to see and make sure that the parents are home.”

Most needed at the moment are part-time drivers, Brown explained, due to a dire lack of substitute drivers for the full-time drivers.

“There doesn’t seem to be a workforce out there for anything. You drive around, and you see help wanted signs everywhere,” Brown said. “But this help wanted situation can prevent kids from getting to school, and that’s a big deal.”

Brown continued, saying that the school bus driver shortage has the potential to force schools to use emergency days due to a lack of drivers.

Those interested in becoming bus drivers are encouraged to contact their local school district and inquire about open positions.

“Our bus drivers are the ambassadors of our district,” said New York Mills Superintendent Dr. Joanne Shelmidine. “They are the first school employee a child sees in the morning and often, the last one they see in the afternoon. The safety and security provided by that relationship cannot be underestimated.”

“Camden School bus drivers are vital to our educational program,” said Camden Superintendent Dr. Ravo Root III. “Our district is over 300-square miles large. Our drivers ensure that all students are able to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities. I am extremely proud of our drivers and all that they do for our students and families.”

Brown said it’s a job with many responsibilities, as it’s not only a heavy-duty vehicle but one capable of carrying 60 children; but Barneveld resident Elizabeth Dudrak is more than ready for that responsibility.

Dudrak, who already works as cafeteria staffer at the Holland Patent School District, decided to apply to be a part-time driver for a change of scenery. “I’m sick of being stuck [in the cafeteria], and I love driving, so I felt it was time to try something new,” Dudrak said.

When asked if training has been difficult, Dudrak said she hasn’t had any problems during the six-week training period.

Besides the service to the community in ensuring kids get to school, Dudrak said the benefits were another perk to the job. Working part-time, Dudrak said, you still get “phenomenal” medical coverage and a retirement plan. So when asked what she’d say to those sitting on the fence about applying, she said to just go for it.

“Give it a shot,” she said. “What’s it going to hurt?”


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