Jerry Partlow, Wilson County Schools transportation director, said the district has 439 route assignments each day, which include regular morning and afternoon routes, special needs morning and afternoon routes and midday routes.
He said he would like about 30 additional drivers to cover routes that carry about 10,000 of the district’s 18,000 students.
“There’s never enough school bus drivers and that’s just the long and short of it. All of the dilemmas that our parents are facing, all the dilemmas that I face and my staff face are because of the lack of school bus drivers. They are the backbone of my end of the business and for you all, too,” Partlow said. “I wish there was one silver bullet that I could say, ‘You shoot this and all your problems go away.’ That’s not going to happen. There are a lot of things we need to do.”
Bus driver pay and benefits and discipline issues emerged as the primary issues with bus driver attraction and retention during the meeting.
“We have to make it an attractive position. I was an educator for 45 years. Bottom line is you pay for what you get,” said board member Larry Joe Inman, who said the district should look up increase bus driver salaries and benefits.
Board members Johnie Payton and Wayne McNeese discussed discipline on school buses.
“If your kid cannot sit on that bus and pay attention and listen just like they do in that classroom, then you don’t need to be riding that bus,” Payton said.
“We’ve got to support these drivers when they have an issue and make sure that these kids are going to behave or they’re going to walk,” said McNeese, who was adamant that district-level administrators received information about discipline issues on buses.
The board also discussed other issues that factor into transportation issues, including laws and regulations, other employment opportunities and parental behavior toward bus drivers.
“Something that’s been lost in this conversation is the stress and the concern that our bus drivers are carrying every day when they’re driving that bus with those children sitting behind them,” Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said. “We’ve got to make sure we support the bus drivers we have right now. We have to figure out what we can do.”
The board will brainstorm potential solutions and present them during the Sept. 28 regular board meeting.