Local News

Schools bus drivers prep for the road and students

SEBRING - David Woodside drove a tractor-trailer hauling cars for 12 years, but despite that experience he needed driver training for his next role behind the wheel as a school bus driver. He's been learning about a completely different type of vehicle and about the safety and security responsibilities of his passengers. "They give you a lot of detailed classroom training as far as how to deal with the students and how to deal with any kind of emergencies that come up; first aid, you name it, they cover it," he said. Woodside said the bus is different because it's a straight vehicle as opposed to a combination vehicle (tractor and trailer) so it handles differently.
The two-week driver-training class includes 40 hours in the classroom, 15 hours behind the wheel and the CDL (commercial drivers license) pre-trip and skills tests. Woodside learned about the driver openings by spotting a parked district school bus in north Sebring with a job opening banner. Due to a work-related injury, Woodside said he is no longer able to haul cars because it is a very physical job. "So now I am just looking to moving on to another career," he said. Bob Gilmore, who has trained bus drivers for the school district for 13 years, was training a trainer on Wednesday. He was shadowing Toby Cribbs who was administering his first CDL test to Woodside. Gilmore pointed out one of the numerous safety features on school buses - the child reminder system. Once a driver finishes their route they just can't get out of the driver's seat and walk off the bus, he said. Before the driver opens the door, he or she must walk to the back of the vehicle and lift the back door handle or, on newer buses, depress a button at the back of the bus, which disarms an alarm and causes the lights to flash twice. As the driver walks back to the front of the bus, they check for students to make sure nobody is sleeping in a seat or underneath a seat on the floor, he said. "We have had students in the past that have fallen asleep," he said. "They crawl underneath the seat and they fall asleep." Cribbs, who is an area operator, works from the school district's Sebring bus compound located near the district offices on E.O. Douglas Ave. "We need more drivers, especially this year," he said. A lot of drivers retired this past year and typically each year, by the end of the school year, the district has a driver shortage due to vacations and sickness. The district has had 20 applicants thus far, but only 10 have taken the training class, Cribbs said. There will be more training classes. The drivers are also trained to serve as bus attendants in the event they are needed to serve in that capacity for a day or two, Cribbs noted. Attendants serve on buses that transport exceptional student education students and also ride on routes that have disciplinary issues. Starting pay for a driver is $11.71 per hour with a guaranteed minimum of a 4.5-hour day. Bus attendants start at $9.17 an hour. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826