Lafayette policy change helping to fill school bus driver slots _lowres

Advocate Photo by LEE CELANO - Children depart a bus on the first day of school at LJ Alleman Middle School in Lafayette August 12, 2014.

A new Lafayette Parish school system policy designed to help fill bus driving jobs is starting to pay off, with three new drivers enrolling so far in adult education courses to fulfill the educational requirements for the job.

The drivers hold commercial driver’s licenses but until recently wouldn’t have been hired because they didn’t have the high school education required by board policy.

The School Board temporarily relaxed the job requirements — with the caveat that drivers who hold a CDL could be hired if they enroll in the school system’s adult education program and make progress toward earning a high school equivalency diploma.

The policy change has helped with recruitment, said Damon Evans, the school system’s transportation director.

“We did have a very good response to the program with 15 individuals interested. We should have six to eight individuals enrolled into the program just after the break and three or more that are acquiring their CDL permits by the end of January,” Evans said.

Evans said the adult education department will track the drivers’ progress and share the report with him and the human resources department. Each driver in the adult education program has been assessed to determine his or her abilities and the length of time it should take to complete the program, he added.

“Plans could vary from six months to 16 months or longer depending on each individual, and each plan can be modified if a driver is ahead of schedule or behind schedule just once in the program,” Evans said.

The policy change applies to both full-time and substitute drivers until the system hires an adequate number of drivers. Currently, there are 283 full-time driver slots and 42 substitute drivers with the majority of the subs on the road daily due to drivers being out sick or on medical leave, Evans said.

Prior to the board’s approval of the policy change in October, the staff of the transportation department had suggested no longer requiring a high school education as a way to recruit drivers. The change didn’t meet with the board’s approval until the caveat was added that required the drivers to enroll in adult education classes to complete their high school education.

While the change has helped recruit drivers, Evans said he thinks it also will help with retention because drivers are having to make an additional commitment for the job.

“All transportation departments across the state have high turnover rates for newer drivers. We are experiencing that now. We are also experiencing a higher rate than normal of retirements. Just this summer, I had 18 retirements, and that was the biggest reason why we needed subs for the year,” he said.

When there’s a vacancy in the driver pool, the department hires from within its existing substitute roster to fill those full-time positions.

The large number of retirees forced the system to hire from the substitute drivers list to fill vacant positions, which meant the system started the year off with fewer subs to draw from, Evans said.

Another bonus is that the school system is helping to educate its workforce, he said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.