TYLER, Texas — From Tyler to Gladewater, several East Texas school districts have a pool of bus driver positions vacant. Some districts are in a tighter bind than others.
Applying to fill a position can be competitive, there is extensive training that applicants must pass before driving the big yellow bus.
"One of the advantages of being a bus driver is that you have a shift that you drive in the morning," Tyler ISD Specialist Trainer Ken Walters said. "If there are things you have to do during the day, you’re more than welcomed to do that, come and drive your afternoon trip. Also, we did almost 6,000 extra-curricular trips last year. So, there are plenty of ways that you can get hours driving a bus if you want those hours.”
Last year, Tyler ISD increased its salary for bus drivers from $14 an hour to $16 an hour.
"If you have experience in driving, then your service record helps you make more per hour depending on how many years you have," Walters explained. "You get full-time benefits, just like teachers do, even though you're working a part-time job."
Before being hired, a candidate must have a Class B Commercial Driver's License (CDL) issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). If an applicant does not have the license several districts provide the training, Tyler ISD being one of them.
"As far as training, I make everything real light and easy, no pressure," Walters said.
Walters says the CDL training consists of three parts: classroom, mechanical and behind-the-wheel.
"We approach the bus, we're looking for leaks, we're making sure there's no water, no oil, nothing under there besides rainwater, Walters said. "We're checking the front of our buses."
The aforementioned checks are apart of a pre-trip inspection, which each trainee must master. It also includes having knowledge under the hood.
"This is an abbreviated inspection. We're checking all of our fluids, all of our hoses, our steering gears or steering linkages," Walters said. "We're checking our brakes to make sure that the rotor is properly mounted, that our disks are not worn."
There is a long checklist that candidates must learn and remember to ace the CDL test. Walters says the pre-inspection tends to be the most challenging and longest part of the training, while the driving portions seem to be the easiest.
“Anytime you’re going to do a test like that, you can be nervous. Everybody’s going to be nervous, so our challenge is to get them to know it so well that when they get there, they’re not concerned,” Walters said.
Currently, Tyler ISD has 21 bus driver vacancies. In his group training, Walters has 14 trainees, but that number includes coaches who already work for the district and are required to have a CDL license.
"We train the guys to be careful. We train them to be patient. We train them to be responsible for the children when they have them on the bus," Walters said.
Walters says there are a few other keys to being a good bus driver. Be aware. This includes always knowing the speed limit while driving and quickly identifying road hazards. He also says being knowledgeable of the routes helps, but not necessary.
"We train a lot of drivers who have never lived in Tyler," Walters said. "We take them out and show them the places they’re going to go. We try to put new drivers with buses that have a monitor on it. They’re also supposed to know the route.”
Overall, he says the length of the training depends on the applicant and how quickly he or she can retain the material. Each candidate must pass the CDL test within six months of getting their driver's permit, and just like in baseball, three strikes, and you are out. If a trainee fails the test three times, they must repeat the entire training process.
For more information on how to apply, visit Tyler ISD's website.