Some parents say a bus driver shortage has caused long commutes and missed classes for their children in the Killeen Independent School District.
The district is 42 drivers short of the needed 288 bus drivers, according to district officials.
“Killeen, like most school districts in Texas, has vacancies in bus driver positions that it works hard to fill year round,” said Terry Abbott, chief communications officer for KISD.
Of the 42 open bus driver positions Oct. 19, only three are part time, according to the list provided by Abbott.
All positions are offered benefits, Abbott said, and newly-hired drivers get a bonus after being there one year. The bus drivers fall into different categories, such as trip driver, alternative driver, regular driver, permanent substitute driver, and non-CDL driver.
The positions are not seasonal, Abbott said. Assignments begin in August and end in June, but the pay is prorated so employees receive paychecks throughout the summer.
“There are also opportunities to work during the summer,” Abbott added.
Applicants for the bus driver positions must have a high school diploma or general education degree (GED). They must also possess a valid Texas Commercial Driver’s License, Class A or B, with passenger and air brake endorsements, or a Class C license or CDL permit.
Also required is a certificate proving current state school bus driver certification issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Testing for that certification is done only at Texas Department of Public Safety supercenters in Waco or Austin. According to Abbott, these centers are so booked, the next testing date available is Nov. 14.
SPECIAL ED DRIVERS
Of the 42 bus drivers KISD needs, 11 would drive special education buses. Filling those positions would make it possible for special education students to ride the bus for shorter periods, and be on time for school.
Currently, some special education students, like Nadine Fuller’s daughter Julie, must ride the bus for 90 minutes each morning to reach Nolanville Elementary School.
Stephanie Moody’s daughter, Samantha, arrived late for class most days at Saegert Elementary during the first eight weeks of this school year.
Though classes begin at 8:30, “Most days, my daughter was not arriving to school until between 8:50 and 9:10,” Moody said she discovered.
“I was angry and blown away that no one would have told me or tried to address this with me sooner,” Moody said. “If I had been bringing her late to school like this, KISD would have already brought me to court.”
Saegert administrators excused the tardiness, according to Moody. When she arrived late, Samantha would miss breakfast, the daily Pledge of Allegiance and part of math class. “She missed almost 40 hours of class,” Moody said. “She still doesn’t know how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Abbott said, “Our goal is to ensure that all of our bus riders arrive to their campus not less than 15 minutes prior to scheduled bell time, but there are instances when this goal is difficult to meet.”
He added that the district is facing a greater demand for bus drivers, due to the continually increasing student enrollment.
“We also work hard to make the most efficient use of the existing pool of drivers and routes that we have. We have consolidated and realigned routes in some cases to address the additional demand, and we will continue to work hard to deal with these issues.”
More recently, a bus problem Oct. 20 caused an hour’s delay in Samantha’s pickup at Saegert. School was dismissed at 4 p.m. and the first-grader was picked up at about 5 p.m. Moody had been frantically trying to locate her daughter.
Saegert principal Eli Lopez apologized to Moody during a phone call at 5:18 p.m., according to KISD. Lopez said she had been handling another situation on the other side of the school building when initially notified of Samantha’s situation, and instructed the school secretary to immediately contact KISD’s transportation office.
Samantha was picked up late by a different bus, because her regular bus was delayed, according to Lopez.
In order to attract more candidates for the open bus driver positions, KISD has increased the starting pay for the positions.
A non-CDL bus driver would start at $12.21 per hour, according to the KISD pay range schedule for 2017-2018. Other bus drivers — on six- or eight-hour shifts — would start at $13.64 per hour.
There is also an opportunity for a one-time $400 bonus, plus reimbursement of any CDL fees after a year of employment, or a two-time $500 bonus plus reimbursement of any CDL fees, one when the driver drives solo for the first time and one after a year of employment.
Current KISD employees are encouraged to refer potential bus drivers to the district, and can receive bonuses for those referrals after the referred candidate completes one year of employment.
KISD has advertised for bus drivers in local media, on school marquees, and on buses in highly visible locations, according to Abbott.
Recruitment fliers were handed out at several local businesses, Abbott said. KISD representatives attended area job fairs in recent months, and will continue to attend future job fairs in the hope of filling all the vacancies.
Candidates can apply for bus driver positions here.