Livingston Parish Public Schools Transportation Director Josh Day scanned the room, counting off 11 participants.
That was half of the number who participated in the schools’ Bus Driver Training course, but it didn’t matter - every body counted.
“And,” Day said, “22 is more than we’ve been having, anyway.”
Day was given the “green light” from administration to run five training courses this school year, beginning in July, to try and fill out a healthy roster of available bus drivers.
That support could not have come at a better time, as the 2019-2020 school year began with 8 routes being unserviced, and no substitute drivers on hand.
“It’s been a long time since we had a substitute list to work off,” Day said, “It gets taxing for our drivers, because they feel they can’t miss a day of work - even if it’s necessary.
“Having more drivers is a tremendous help.”
Those 8 routes were filled with full-time drivers after the second course in August, and the system has been trying to add substitute drivers ever since.
Day credits the attention the system has gotten with packed buses and buses running late as to why the community has been responding so well to the courses.
“Filled routes and substitute drivers help us get kids to-and-from school in a more consistent fashion,” Day explained.
If a route is unfilled for a day, or even just one morning or one afternoon run, that adds time to the route.
“It’s anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on where the bus route is,” Day said. “If it’s a rural route, that’s more spread, you’re looking at another hour or so on the bus.”
Day said that those 8, unfilled bus routes will be set until the end of this school year - but turnover is a problem, which is why the system must continue to run the courses.
The course is 40 hours of instruction, centered around The Louisiana Department of Education requirements for a bus driver - including first aid; defensive driving tactics; and drug and alcohol awareness.
Then, the state requires bus operators to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) permit, which means the appropriate books must be studied.
After the 10-day, 4-hour per night class is complete, drivers go to get their CDL permit.
“Then the real driving begins,” Day said. “It’s a pretty lengthy process.”
Potential drivers spend 30 hours, after the 40 hour course, driving a bus under a variety of different circumstances. It begins with observations of current bus drivers, followed by training on “pre-trip” inspections of a bus, to make sure that the vehicle is prepared to handle a day’s work.
Next, potential drivers hop behind the wheel of an empty bus with an Office of Motor Vehicles instructor, who takes them through a variety of scenarios.
Finally, with the trainer, a trainee handles a bus load of kids for a single route in a day.
“Once they pass that, they’re certified and we can either add them to a route if they’re interested in full-time, or to the substitute list,” Day said.
“There’s a lot of flexibility in being a bus driver - plenty of time during the day for part-time work, which a lot of our drivers do,” Day explained, “and there’s state benefits.”
Livingston Parish Public Schools currently utilize roughly 320 buses, per day, for over 700 routes. Many drivers, especially in densely populated areas, will run two routes per shift, per day.
“And we may have more permanent routes coming,” Day explained, “(the school system) added 5 new ones just this year.
“We just keep growing.”
The November course is currently underway, and the next will begin in January, after the holidays.
For more information on becoming a full-time, or substitute, bus driver, call the transportation department at 225-686-4200.