The Thankless Job of the OKC Bus Driver
It’s a week late because of unexpected construction, but students return to Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City today. That means more routes in service for school bus drivers
About 170 men and women of all ages watch an educational film on school bullying in the business conference center at Metro Tech in Northeast Oklahoma City.
And that’s the point, actual driving is a small component of the job.
Bullying, student safety, personal safety and more is now part of the job for these drivers.
During a break I catch up with 15-year veteran Oklahoma City driver, Ronnie Jacobs, who believes ending bullying takes a cooperative effort from the administrators to the teachers to the drivers.
The 58-year-old knows how the burden of bullying affects a child.
“When they come to school and things with that pressure even at home, coming to school, leaving, on the bus, at school, where ever they don’t need those added pressures so if we could release them of that, oh man, their learning ability would just be fantastic.”
Jacobs knows what to look for, but 26-year-old, Tiara Hardman is trying to prepare herself for the chaos on a school bus.
“Make your rules and your regulations before you start driving so you won’t have to worry about your children in the background so you can focus on driving and getting them safe to school.”
Tiara loves children and says she was especially moved by the anti-bullying film.
It hits close to home because it includes the story of Ty Field-Smalley, a Perkins student who committed suicide after alleged bullying at school.
“We need to stand more for the children that are not able to speak for themselves and not able to protect themselves. If like I said you set your rules and regulations when the students get on the bus then they know that it’s not ok to do those things to the students.”
But how do you watch for signs of bullying, keep an eye on the road and maintain control of as many as 50 kids?
Ronnie Jacobs says it’s not that hard. It just takes a little creativity.
The former county juvenile shelter employee recalls driving high school kids back from Wagoner one night and saw many of the boys sitting a little too close to their female classmates.
“I asked a question to all the young men who were sitting next to a girl, ‘Raise one hand’ and they raised their hand. I said ‘Ok, if you enjoy the girl that you’re sitting with raise your other hand’, and they raised both hands. And I said, ‘That’s the way I want you to ride all the way back to the city’.”
The drivers take as many as 150 students each day to and from school and to special events.
Transportation Director Scott Lane encourages these representatives of the Oklahoma City School district to get to know their students.
“They’re the first face they see in the morning and the last face in the afternoon and they walk in with a smile on the bus, get to know their name and just be friendly. We tell them ‘don’t be their buddy, but yes, do be friendly’.”
Driving a bus can be a thankless job and the average pay of only about $30,000 a year can cause a high turnover throughout the year.
While 170 drivers might be just about right to start the school year, Lane says you can never have too many drivers.
“We’re real excited about being able to get more people we would right now feel more comfortable if I had 10 more drivers. We’re looking good, but I want to look great and so we would love to have more.”
Driver shortage is an issue for a number of school districts because of the low pay and high turnover.
Oklahoma City tries to recruit by offering paid training.
But for many drivers, it’s not about the money, it’s about the kids.
That’s why Ronnie Jacobs enjoys being back behind the wheel doing what he’s done the past decade and a half: chauffeuring some of the best kids in the state.
“They make their statements about riding on a big yellow limo so you know to us it’s a jolly thing to hear and just being able to be a part of the kids life to make sure they get to and fro so it’s a blast man, it’s a blast.”