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Apr
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2024
Village Schools

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Local schools need bus drivers

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Late this summer, as a new school year was starting across the U.S., both national and local news publications shared a common headline: School districts are in need of more bus drivers.

In August, The New York Times reported on a host of back-to-school issues tied to diminishing bus driver staff in Illinois, Kentucky, Florida, Virginia and Oklahoma, with some districts pivoting to public transit or closing schools outright to combat the shortages.

Nearby, Dayton Public Schools has struggled to staff all of its routes for a few years; in January, the Dayton Daily News reported that the district was cited by the state for failing to bus charter school students, which the district said was due in part to a lack of bus drivers.

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Though the Yellow Springs School District hasn’t seen interruptions in providing bus services to students, the local district is not immune to the nationwide shortage.

The district currently employs two full-time drivers to handle the three bus routes that ferry students every school day, as well as to and from field trips and sporting events.

“Throughout the years, Yellow Springs Schools has had a wonderful and dedicated transportation staff,” Superintendent Terri Holden told the News via email this week. “However, we also have employee attrition just like any other school district. Our bus pool is small, so when we have an absence, it puts a strain on other departments.”

Holden said the district has been “strategic” in allaying school bus service interruption by making sure the district has “several staff members who are appropriately licensed to cover routes when needed.” Those staff members currently serve as substitute drivers on one of the district’s three bus routes.

Ideally, however, the district would have three or four full-time drivers and two or three substitute drivers on its staff, Holden said.

National news reports have cited pay as one issue affecting the school bus driver shortage. Employment marketplaces ZipRecruiter and Indeed and human resources management company Salary.com report the national average hourly pay for school bus drivers ranges from $17 to $21.

With this in mind — and to ensure that students have “the best care en route to school and home” — Holden noted that the school district has made a “consistent effort to stay competitive with wages” with regard to bus driver positions.

YS Schools’ pay for bus drivers trends higher than the national average; as reported in personnel schedules at school board meetings in August, October and November, hourly rates for substitute bus drivers have averaged around $19 per hour, and for full-time drivers, around $24.50. Those rates are also higher than some nearby school districts; according to the Dayton Public Schools Human Resources website, substitute drivers average $18 an hour, and full-time drivers $20.80 an hour.

Meet the YS Schools bus drivers

Yellow Springs students are shepherded to and from school every week by the Two Tims — bus drivers Tim Sandlin and Tim Whetsel. The News spoke to both drivers by phone this week.

Sandlin and Whetsel have been district bus drivers for 13 years and five years, respectively. Because Sandlin’s tenure is longer, it affords him a particular naming privilege among the Two Tims.

“I’m Tim One — he’s Tim Two,” Sandlin said with a laugh.

Whetsel, a local resident, said part of the reason he elected to become a school bus driver was a family connection to the job.

“My grandfather was a bus driver,” he said. “He told me about relationships he’d made with kids as a driver — sometimes lifetime relationships.”

A former 35-year guidance counselor who previously worked in Springfield and Kettering schools, Whetsel said an important aspect of his counseling was forming strong bonds with students.

“And I really feel that I have relationships that are just as strong, if not stronger, with my kids on the bus, because I see them every day — they’ve become part of my family,” he said.

Sandlin, who lives in Enon and is retired from a career with the State of Ohio, said being a bus driver often means being the first staff member some students see every day — and that it’s important to help set the tone for those students’ school day.

“So I greet them, make sure they have their bookbag and didn’t forget anything, just to get them to interact and start their morning right,” he said.

Sandlin added that, as with Whetsel, getting to know students has been a joy of his work. With the length of his tenure, he’s driven some students from kindergarten all the way through high school.

“And some of the kids I drove 10, 12 years ago who are still in the area, I’m driving their kids now,” he said.

Both Sandlin and Whetsel said they love being bus drivers — but both also acknowledged that transporting students comes with challenges, some of which they said might be contributors to the national bus driver shortage, from their view.

“The schedule can be difficult,” Whetsel said. “We work 20 hours per week on a regular job, and we make up the other half driving to activities, field trips or athletic events. Sometimes a driver might have a 12-hour day.”

The work day starts early for local bus drivers, typically around 6:30 a.m. Their regular shifts are around two hours long — one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

“I’ve always been an early riser, so it works for me,” Sandlin said. He added that the bus driver schedule might be ideal for district parents who want their work schedules to align with their children’s school schedules.

“When they’re off, you’re off,” he said. “If school is canceled for snow or rain or whatever catastrophe, it’s canceled for you, too.”

Managing students, too, can be a challenge — but more often than not, that part of the job just takes being “fair, firm and consistent” with students, Sandlin said.

Nevertheless, both bus drivers agreed that the joys of their job far outweigh the challenges.

“Sure, it can be stressful, but it’s so rewarding,” Whetsel said. “For example, when I drive students to an athletic event, each one of them thanks me. They appreciate what you do for them — it’s wonderful.”

“I just don’t think people know how really rewarding it is,” Sandlin said, echoing Whetsel’s sentiment. “The kids in Yellow Springs are great.”

Superintendent Holden noted that, in addition to competitive salary and benefits, the district offers bus drivers paid training; winter, spring and summer breaks off; and the opportunity to cover additional routes for extra pay.

But perhaps the largest benefit, Whetsel said, is the job itself.

“I have a group of kids I pick up in the morning, and they make my day,” he said. “If I’m feeling a little down, they have a way of cheering me up — and I hope I give that back to them.”

For more information on how to apply for a bus driver position, or any open position in the district, go to http://www.ysschools.org/departments/human-resources.

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