By Kim West
The Limestone school system is seeking substitutes to spell its more than 100 full-time school bus drivers assigned to daily routes, field trips and extracurricular events on 13 campuses.
The system’s longtime transportation director, Daryl Adams, said his department has never had enough backup drivers.
“We can never have too many. It’s a never-ending process, and probably the biggest part of my job is filling substitutes, ” Adams said. “We have six full-time subs — the state calls them utility workers — and on top of that, we have 20 other people that are on our substitute list.
“Most of them don’t drive often because they have other jobs, or they’re taking care of their grandchildren.”
Last year’s records show the system employed 105 full-time drivers, with an average of eight drivers out each school day.
“The drivers get the flu, they have vacation,” he said. “Life happens to them, too.”
Adams said expanding the substitute roster hinges on finding high-character people capable of juggling the additional duties that come along with being a school bus driver.
“Actually driving the bus is the simplest part, while learning the route and the children’s names is the hardest part,” he said. “It can be a little overwhelming at the start, but we try to make it as easy as possible for new drivers.
“And you don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry to drive a bus. Character is a big part of that. Our drivers have done a good job of recruiting people because if you’ve been driving a long time, you know the pros and cons of the job.”
A sub driver does not receive benefits and is paid $50 a day, or $25 each for the morning and afternoon routes. Subs can also opt to drive buses for school trips and activities.
“If you can imagine the number of field trips, football games, band buses and all the elementary schools going to the pumpkin patch, we have an enormous amount of trips,” he said. “Some don’t want to drive a route, but they’ll drive field trips. There’s a big need for that, too.”
Adams said the morning and afternoon school routes average about 2 hours in duration each.
“Most of the routes with children on the bus are about an hour on average, but by the time you do the pre-trip (checklist), get to the school and line up, it’s closer to 2 hours,” he said. “It’s important for people to know that we have a full-time trainer, and every step of the way we will prop them up.
“We don’t send them to the state class until they’re ready, with some people coming in with a background of driving big vehicles and others having to adjust to driving a big vehicle and learning the procedures.”
Job candidates must be 21 years old and have a clean driving record. They are required to complete an application and background check, and they must earn a commercial driver’s license with a Class B endorsement.
Prospective drivers take a written exam at the Commercial Driver License office, receive instruction from a Limestone school bus trainer and then attend a class mandated by the state Department of Education.
“There is an obstacle course they drive through after three days of knowledge testing with the state,” Adams said. “If they pass, they fill out an application with us and we do the background check, and then they’re ready to go.”
The hiring process takes at least four weeks for new drivers, according to Adams.
“It would take a month for someone that is motivated to get everything done,” he said. “If people are willing to travel, we can get them in a training class in any county (in Alabama).”
In addition to subs being sought for county routes, Adams said the city school system follows a similar hiring process and also stays busy looking for subs.
“For people that live in Athens, I know that Athens City also needs subs,” he said. “They have exactly the same process as we do, as far as getting the CDL license and having drivers complete the state test.”