Amid Summit School District’s bus driver shortage, one says she was meant for the job as school year nears
For the 2022-23 school year, the Summit School District will start off with only 14 bus routes.
The ideal amount would be 18 routes, Summit School District Transportation Director Andrea Meyer-Pemble said, but the 14 routes are still four more than the district had last year.
Meyer-Pemble added that even one more bus driver for extracurricular activities could make all the difference. At the end of the day, however, Meyer-Pemble wants parents to know they are trying their very best.
More than just a job
Leslie Blum is about to enter her fourth year of being a bus driver for Summit School District. She said with sports activities, choir concerts and field trips, she sometimes racks up 55 to 60 hours per week.
Blum added that she does get paid overtime, but that kind of schedule has an affect on her daily life.
“It’s still time away from my family,” Blum said. “And it’s still time where I don’t get to relax and decompress and take that big breath so that I’m ready to go.”
Though she didn’t expect it, Blum has fallen in love with her job. She says she was meant to be a bus driver and wants to show up for her kids.
“We get up every day and do this because this is what we love to do,” she said.
During those 55 to 60 hour work weeks, Blum may not get back from a sports trip until Friday evening at 5:30 p.m., and will still get up the next morning at 6 a.m. for the next round of students.
“We all care about kids enough that we’re going to make sure you get to where you need to be,” she said.
Blum is happy to do it, she said, but the shortage has spread bus drivers thin, leaving them physically and emotionally drained.
The school currently employs only five full-time bus drivers paid at $23.50 per hour, who “typically” work 40 hours a week, Blum said.
Why the driver shortage?
Blum recognizes that driving a 25,000 pound vehicle holding 65 to 70 children while on Interstate 70 in a blizzard may be intimidating for some.
However, Blum reassured there are plenty of trainings to prepare the bus drivers for situations like these.
The process to become a bus driver takes about four to six weeks, Blum said, and requires a commercial driver’s license, a classroom training and logging hours behind the wheel. While it does cost money, Blum said her training was paid for by the school.
Blum offered another reason why there might be a lack of bus drivers. She said she’s aware that some people may not respect her work.
“People have this belief that, ‘You’re just a dumb bus driver,’” she said. “You know, ‘What kind of impact can you really have?’ … I think people don’t really understand the importance.”
Even though other people may not understand, Blum knows how important her job is.
“I’m the first person from the school district who gets to say, ‘Good morning. Welcome. I am so glad you’re here,’” she said. “In the reverse, I’m the last person from the school that they see before they go home, and I get to make sure that if something’s on their mind, they’ve had a rough day at school, I get to say, ‘Hey, you know what, everybody has a rough day. Your day is over. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ve got this.’”
Who is missing out?
Right now, Meyer-Pemble said there are 66 children on the waitlist for a bus route. During the summer of 2021, the school district brought together a team of school administrators, teachers, bus drivers and more to create a criteria system for students to gain bus access.
There are only 70 seats on a bus, and with both the high school and middle school adding up to 1,400 students, some are not going to qualify.
The criteria were based on Individualized Educational Plans, distance from school and free and reduced lunch qualifications.
Despite the hardship and exhaustion, Blum loves being a cheerleader for her riders.
“There are mornings when you wake up, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I can’t do it. I just — I cannot make it happen.’” Blum said. “And then all of a sudden, you get these kids on the bus and none of that even exists anymore.”
For more information about bus driver positions, Meyer-Pemble’s contact information can be found on Summit School District’s transportation webpage.
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