By Candace Birkelbach
Killeen Daily Herald
Drivers passing by schools in Killeen have probably noticed the signs alerting the public that Killeen Independent School District has a severe need for bus drivers.
The district still needs to hire 30 to 35 more bus drivers in order to be fully staffed, said Marty Smonko, operations specialist for KISD.
The district needs about 160 bus drivers for all routes to run smoothly, Smonko said. If the proper number of bus drivers is not hired by the first day of classes, the transportation department will be forced to use district staff to fill the vacancies, he said.
"Each route will have to run each day," Smonko said. "We want children to get from school and back home safely each day."
Training and safety specialist D.J. Jennings said the district's difficulty to find qualified bus drivers is a result of two things: drivers fear they will not obtain full employment status since they are only guaranteed four hours per day, and an immense responsibility comes with the task of driving kids to school each day.
"We are not in the business of disciplining children, but drivers must use their wisdom and maturity to manage the student behavior and encourage self-discipline," Jennings said.
He also said bus drivers can easily get more hours into their schedule by driving for special trips and extracurricular activities.
He has constantly hired bus drivers for the past five to six years and never had a full staff, despite offering paid training, a sign-on bonus and reimbursement for the CDL license. The bus drivers for KISD are paid $10.81 per hour.
To drive a school bus in Killeen, applicants must obtain special permits and go through observation training. They must complete an annual bus driver's physical exam, obtain a CDL driver's license, take state-mandated courses and agree to random drug testing, Smonko said.
Jennings said there is no set number of training hours that must be completed prior to driving their own route; rather, it depends on the driver's experience and driving skills.
He said seven hours is the shortest length of time he has seen someone take to complete the driving observation hours. If an applicant has never driven a bus before and is unfamiliar with the Killeen routes, it could take three to four weeks to complete the training.
"If someone has driven school buses in Austin, they must still go behind the wheel to complete the training process here and learn the department's procedures," Jennings said.
He said he prefers to have one-on-one conversations with people interested in becoming bus drivers so he can tell them everything that's expected. Jennings also noted that he would like to see more incentives made available by the district to offer bus drivers.
"We need people able to adapt to changes and understand they are like a daycare worker on wheels," Jennings said.
Contact Candace Birkelbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 254-501-7553