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The wheels on the bus go round: So do Bend-La Pine school buses, as test-drivers seek a new career

(Update: adding video, comment from Bend-La Pine director of transportation, training director)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The last day of classes for Bend-La Pine Schools isn't for a couple weeks, but already the district is hiring bus drivers for next year, and applicants had a chance to get behind the wheel for a test drive of their own on Tuesday.

The district hosted the first of two “Drive & Apply” events for anyone interested in driving a bus next school year. They got to get behind the wheel, take a spin on a closed course, and interview for a position afterward.

Through these events, the district is hoping to fill five positions, as long as the job-seeker has a clean driving background and a passion to work with kids.

"We do handle children in all different scenarios - behavior issues, things like that," training director, Justin Kohler. "We as a training department here at the Bend-La Pine Schools, we kind of put you through the training for those type of scenarios before" you hit the road.

Justin Kohler has been working as a school bus driver for 17 years, and training other bus drivers for six years. On average, the district employs about 120 drivers a year.

"Working on how to maneuver the bus, how to safely move it in forward and reverse," Kohler explained. "Once we're we've completed all those, well, we'll take you out the gate and out on the road."

Drivers will need about 25 to 35 hours of training before they let kids on board. That's about two to three hours per day over the summer. 

"You're going to do a student stops or practice putting on those red lights that you see when the traffic needs to stop, some tighter turns," said Bend La-Pine Director of Transportation Kim Crabtree.

Crabtree explained that in addition to skills on the road, drivers are educated in how to deal with a wide variety of student behavior. Eight hours of classwork are required, focusing on student management.

"It takes patience and understanding," Crabtree said. "We are the first space and the last space of the day. it's about building relationships with kids and having them enjoy the ride."

The district will also pay for new employees to get their commercial drivers license required. Drivers are generally assigned a morning and afternoon route and get year round benefits including medical, dental and vision. 

The screening process is lengthy. Bus operators must get a commercial driver's license, pass four written tests at the DMV, take a physical and drug test, and pass a background check.

Average pay for a school bus driver is between $28 and $31 an hour, and there's room for growth each year with the district.

"I think the intimidating piece is getting behind the wheel and driving a bus - and people love it," Crabtree said. "We're going to teach you, and you're going to be the most excellent driver you've been."

For those who missed this first Drive & Apply event, the district will be hosting a second one on Saturday, June 8th. If that date doesn't work, the district hires drivers all year and encourages folks to reach out if interested. But they say each year, they've had good luck with filling all the positions. 

The second event will be Saturday, June 8, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Both events are at the Bend-La Pine Schools Transportation Facility, 501 SE 2nd Street, in Bend.

The 2024-25 pay range for drivers is $28.26 to $31.21 per hour. The school district also provides paid training for new hires needing to obtain or renew their Commercial Driver’s License. Learn more on their Jobs page, or call 541-355-5700.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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