Hiring and keeping bus drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is the main reason why El Campo ISD doesn’t provide transportation to and from school for all of its students.
“We need some bus drivers. If I can get two or three bus drivers, then it’s a no-brainer, and we can make it happen. If I don’t get some bus drivers, it’s going to hamper the process,” Superintendent Kelly Waters said.
In addition to drivers, outgoing transportation director Chris Burrow said the district would need to purchase three more buses to cover three additional in-town routes. Those buses would be in addition to the five buses included in the preliminary budget for the 2019 - 2020 school year to replace high-mileage buses in the district’s fleet.
“I feel like it is easier to ask for material things (buses) than it is to ask for people. You have to find someone who can pass the driver’s test. It’s not the case where we have a lot of applicants so let’s see if we have a bus to drive. It would be that we’d have a bus sitting there with no one to drive,” Waters said.
The board cut back on student transportation beginning in the 2011-2012 school year.
It was Trustee Greg Anderson who asked that busing be brought before the board at the July regular meeting.
“I know families whose kids miss school due to not having transportation,” Anderson said. “I think busing would help tremendously.”
What followed was a lengthy discussion about how to handle transportation of “ineligible” bus riders, or students that live within two miles of the campus they attend. Creating bus stops and concerns regarding safety, attendance, students walking in inclement weather and morale were also mentioned.
Waters and Burrow have discussed four possible “cluster” stops located in high-need areas of El Campo where student populations with the most absences live. Some of these stops also double as public transit stops. Last year, those possible stops were brought before the board. Waters said those stops have yet to be determined. Drivers are needed to make these stops a reality.
Route times for the two to three routes assigned to these stops would have to be determined, too. Each route would be dedicated to a certain campus, Burrow said. A problem would arise if a child destined for Myatt Elementary missed his/her bus and tried to take a later bus scheduled for Hutchins Elementary for example, he said. The child who missed their bus could not be on the second or third bus.
Out-of-town routes would have to be made shorter in order for the driver to make it back to town sooner to do these two routes and get children to school in time to have breakfast. Additional staff would need to be waiting at the school for the students before 7:30 a.m,, he said.
“We have to find those drivers. They’re not out there,” Burrow said.
During the meeting, Burrow challenged the community to try for a CDL license and apply to be a bus driver. Anderson agreed with Burrow.
“There are unemployed people right now, and I imagine they will take that opportunity to take it. We are trying on this end, and the community needs to spread the word and try on their end to get some CDL drivers out there,” Anderson said.
Driver pay is also a factor, Burrow said.
“If we train them to get their CDL, and they stay with us for six months, they can go drive a dump truck for $10 to $15 more. They use us in effect.”
By the August meeting the board would like to see a cost analysis regarding buses and full time drivers’ salaries from Waters. The board also discussed opening the exploratory process by forming a transportation committee made up of community members, district staff and law enforcement.