Wyoming Education Association

Spring 22

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MAKING HEADLINES Across the nation, school districts are struggling to fill transportation jobs. CBS News reported in January of this year that at least nine states were forced to call in the National Guard to assist in transporting students. In fact, the shortage is so bad that effective January 3-March 31, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education, that the F ederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver's license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify "under the hood" engine components. All other components of the written and road test remain unchanged. Wyoming opted not to waive this requirement for drivers. Program Administrator of Transportation for LCSD# 1 Adam Greenwood told WEA News that CDL drivers qualified under this waiver lack interstate CDL driving privileges, prohibiting them from driving students to activities in bordering states. Greenwood also said it's important, particularly in rural communities, for Wyoming bus drivers to "have enough knowledge to help with diagnosing mechanical issues over the phone" in the event their buses break down. "We are definitely still struggling to find qualified applicants," said Greenwood, "especially route drivers and on-call drivers." In October, the district moved to increase starting salaries for drivers and transportation assistants. Using federal relief dollars, the district raised wages by $2 per hour. That increase will stay in place for the remainder of this school year but will have to be renegotiated into next year's contract to stay in place. WEA Local #1 points to a lack of upward mobility, non- competitive wages, delayed or lacking benefits, and unrealistic expectations for drivers to manage students as the primary issues driving transportation employees into different fields. Activity Driver JC says she's seen many co-workers train to get their CDL license through the school district, only to leave for better-paying driving opportunities. "You can walk across the state and haul fertilizer for three times the amount of money you'll make driving our students— the future of America," she said. "Add the pandemic on top of that–and the pay and the responsibilities. It's too much." Misty White, a route driver, working in LCSD#1 for the past nine years, says, "People are getting burned out, and they' re walking away. But this shortage pre-dates the pandemic." On-call driver positions are traditionally ineligible for benefits which White says is a major deterrent to applying for many would-be drivers. Program Administrator Adam Greenwood shared with WEA News that the district is moving to hire several full- time drivers with immediate access to benefits upon completion of paid training. The Executive Committee of WEA Local #1 believes there's still progress to be made, but the hourly raise awarded through federal relief dollars, coupled with a move toward immediate benefits access, are major moves in the right direction for LCSD #1 transportation employees. When asked what keeps them behind the wheel, they all share the same sentiment: it's all about the kids. "I love my job," says route driver Mist y White. "I absolutely love it. I love interacting with the kids. I started at the bus garage because a bus driver named Mac was my sons' driver, and he made such a positive difference in their lives." Mac went on to mentor White through her driver training. "Mac was such a positive connection for my kids, and that's what I strive for," she said. "I want my kids to know they have my support. Whether or n ot they have it at home, they have it with me on the bus." DRIVING CHANGE WEA News sat down with the Executive Committee of WEA Local #1 to talk about improving working conditions for transportation employees and addressing the national bus driver shortage. Photo Caption: From left: Wyoming Tribune Eagle Reporter Jasmine Hall, WEA Southeast Region UniServ Director Greg Herold, Cynthia Newby, and the WEA Local #1 Executive Committee: John West, JC, James White, Misty White. Scan the QR code to read an article in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle about the bus driver shortage. 6

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