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Bus drivers wanted

Wanted: Adult who can maintain order with 60 children crammed into a confined space while maneuvering a 40-foot-long vehicle.

School bus drivers are in short supply in districts across the state — and country, said Jim Hinckle, director of transportation for Jordan School District.

"It's a pretty difficult job. Not only is the driving difficult, because of ... all the construction and traffic flow increases, you also have to manage up to 60 to 65 kids who sit behind you."

While bus routes are covered, districts including Granite, Jordan and Davis say they need more substitute, or stand-by, drivers to help them in the event a regular driver gets sick. Davis School District has put the word out creatively: Parking buses on busy streets and draping them with help-wanted banners. Jordan's office staff and mechanics have had to fill in there for open routes.

"We're feeling the pinch," Granite District spokesman Randy Ripplinger said. "It is very difficult to get bus drivers who will stay around."

Jordan District now is offering a $500 to $1,000 stipend to contract bus drivers to help keep them on the job this school year. Pay in the district starts at $14 an hour; drivers earn $18 an hour after six years on the job, district spokeswoman Melinda Colton said. The average: $15.50.

Davis School District pays $12.63 to $19.55 an hour; it has 205 routes, spokesman Chris Williams said.

Indeed, school district pay is comparable to Utah Transit Authority's. Granite District pay, which ranges from $15.66 to more than $19 an hour, beats it.

UTA drivers start around $13.50, and get a 50-cent raise every six months until they top out at $18.89 an hour. "And," said UTA spokesman Chad Saley, "we are currently hiring."

Still, some Granite bus drivers work on a nine-month contract, so their annual salary would be less than if they worked at, say, UTA.

"We can't attract and we can't retain bus drivers. There's simply not (a lot) out there," Jordan Board of Education President J. Dale Christensen said. "And when we do attract them and hire them, we train them and they turn around and leave us and go to ... higher-paying jobs someplace else."

Pay isn't the only issue associated with school bus driving, said Pat Fender, project director for the American Federation of Teachers. "There are better conditions (elsewhere)."

The career has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with the discipline and additional investigation of a Granite School District bus driver who is accused of using racially charged language and shouting at Bonneville Junior High students while ordering them off his bus.

School transportation bosses are unsure how, if at all, that incident might affect the supply of bus drivers.

But Jordan's Hinckle hopes the district's stipend can help keep drivers around.

"I think it will help establish the fact that ... employees are very valuable to us," Hinckle said.

Bus driver pay

Several school districts report a bus driver shortage, particularly for stand-in drivers. Jordan is offering up to a $1,000 stipend to contract bus drivers to entice them to stay with them. Here's a range of hourly pay in three area school districts and Utah Transit Authority. Also affecting pay is the fact that many school bus drivers are on a nine-month contract.

Jordan: $14 - $18

Granite: $15.66 - $19.13

Davis: $12.63 - $19.55

UTA: $13.49 - $18.89