Forsyth Co. school district struggling to find enough bus drivers for its daily routes

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WS/FCS bus driver Glenda Stephens checks all emergency exits on her bus as part of her pre-route inspection, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 at the Lansing Street bus lot. Stephens has driven a bus for the school system for more than 30 years. (Walt Unks/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Just about every school day the past 33 years has started and ended at the same place for Glenda Stephens — the lot where she leaves her yellow Thomas Built school bus, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

This year, it’s bus No. 481.

“I was going to come out whenever our last child graduated high school, but I enjoyed (it) so much I kept driving,” Stephens said. “Then I said, when our first child has our first grandchild I’d come out and take care of the grandchild.”

“Well, that was 13 years ago,” she said, laughing. “I’m not ready to retire. I’m having too much fun.”

Every school district could use a Glenda Stephens.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools could use about 20 more.

The district, like others across the state, has struggled to find enough bus drivers to fill all its daily routes.

Dub Potts, interim director of transportation for the district, said he still has about 20 open positions. The shortage is creating almost daily transportation headaches. After Potts runs through his cadre of about 30 substitute drivers — who are already driving almost daily — any bus routes still open have to be covered by drivers who are already assigned full routes. They’ll squeeze in an additional run, Potts said, but it creates delays and confusion for the students, parents and schools.

“It doesn’t happen with the same route every day, but it happens every day somewhere,” Potts said. “It’s not a good way to operate.”

It is the only way the district can operate until it hires more drivers, though.

The shortage isn’t from lack of trying, Potts said. There are training sessions held every month, but the process of becoming a school bus driver requires a lot of jumping through hoops for a job that can be less than glamorous.

“These are folks who are doing it because they like kids, they like being in an educational environment,” Potts said.

In other words, most school bus drivers aren’t doing it just for the $12.34 an hour.

A love of children and the patience of a saint isn’t all it takes, though. Would-be drivers have to pass a background check, medical clearance, seven and a half days of unpaid training and obtain their commercial driver’s license.

It sounds more daunting that it is, Kristian Wall said. Wall began driving for Forsyth County Schools last month after her position as a media assistant in the Randolph County Schools was cut. She said that within a week after applying she was driving.

“It was fairly easy,” said Wall, who already had her CDL from her previous job. “They teach you everything you need to know.”

It’s still challenging work with a lot of responsibility, but it can be rewarding, too, Stephens said.

“Of course, they’re (the students) going to try out a new driver,” Stephens said. “But if you start out the year talking to the children and telling them what you expect, you’ll have a good route.”