By Taylor Boyd
Add driving a school bus to Jason Wood’s ever growing list of duties.
Wood, the superintendent of the Patrick County School division, on March 29 climbed into the driver’s seat to pick up elementary and high school students along the Meadows of Dan bus route.
Wood started the route at 6:45 a.m., and arrived at the school at 7:35 a.m. Along the way, he picked up the majority of the 25 students on the route.
The additional role was added to his duty roster due to shortages of bus drivers and bus driver substitutes, Wood said.
“We’ve been pulling bus mechanics, and even the Transportation Director and the transportation director’s administrative assistant, have been driving. We didn’t have anyone to drive that route (in Meadows of Dan) because “everyone was already out driving” other routes, he said.
Unlike some other school divisions that may have called to notify parents that buses that would not run that day, or ask a staff member to try and reschedule a personal appointment, Wood decided to drive the route.
“The administrative assistant at the Transportation Office was going to reschedule her appointment this morning so she could do it, and I thought it was much more fair for me to help when I can,” he said, adding that doing so detracted from the time he would normally spend engaged in regular administrative work.
“It was an extra time commitment, but it was well worth it. We did not have to cancel a route and keep students from coming to school to get not only the face to face education they need but also the social/emotion and physical support they need,” he said, adding that could be anything from meals to “just a caring adult making sure that students are safe.”
Wood said the willingness of others to lend a hand and do what needs doing are part and parcel of the reason he is convinced that staff members of the local school division are the best.
“Put them up against any other school division staff, and they truly come together and do what’s needed to ensure the wellbeing of our students,” he said.
While he is unsure if he will have to fill-in as a bus driver often, Wood said he will when needed.
While in his previous position as Director of Operations, Wood said he started working to obtain his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) as an added level of safety and support in the event of a crisis.
“Now, knowing the staffing shortage, I can see myself being on that rotation of mechanics, the Director of Transportation, and his administrative assistants, to keep parents from having to drive students to school or having students learn remotely and not being able to go to school,” he said.
Wood said the staffing shortage isn’t limited to bus drivers and substitute drivers. Rather, it extends across the school division.
Now that the pandemic seems to be waning, and it is safe to return to work, Wood said he hopes there are people who may want supplemental income during retirement, and be interested in a position as a bus driver.
The job, he said, is rewarding on a number of levels.
“Our bus drivers are some of our unsung heroes. They greet the students every day in the morning and make sure they get home safely every day. Just like all support staff, schools do not operate without them,” he said.
The division currently has 54 drivers and four substitute drivers. Drivers are paid an hourly rate of $14.87, and are contracted for five and a half hours per day.
Wood said the school division also provides benefits. For instance, bus drivers are eligible for five sick days and can participate in the employee portion of health insurance. Wood said the school system is also one of the few divisions that will pay the full cost of CDL training, and pay a salary to those who participate in the training.
“Our administrative assistant at the bus garage is now a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) trainer, so now you don’t have to leave Patrick County to get your CDL. You’ll take your classes here, get your training here, and do the work here,” he said.
The most recent human resources report included 10 openings in the school division, Wood said, and added there are openings for bus drivers and substitutes nearly all the time because more are always needed.