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South Valley Journal

Essential school bus drivers, nutrition, custodian staff needed for upcoming school year

Jul 28, 2021 12:16PM ● By Julie Slama

Signs advertising the need for bus drivers are popping up throughout school districts as there aren’t enough people to fill the routes. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

As the school year approaches, many students and their families may be wondering who will open the door and greet them at the start of the school year as they board a big yellow school bus.

Some area school districts also may be wondering as websites and signs across the Salt Lake Valley are posted, advertising bus driver positions.

As of July 1, in Canyons School District, there were 40 positions open for bus drivers or 18% of its staff who transport about 20,000 students. In addition, 35 of the 55 attendant positions were available.

Canyons School District Transportation Director Jeremy Wardle has worked in the industry the past 14 years, working his way up from driving while putting himself through college.

“There’s always turnover,” he said. “I think the difference this year is COVID and the fallout from that.”

Wardle said that a large number of the district’s drivers are on a second career, but with the extra protections during COVID-19 pandemic and drivers’ possibly health issues, there just were not enough drivers returning.

Plus, he said the area has changed, which means more drivers are needed to transport schoolchildren.

“Twenty years ago, Draper was more farmland than it was houses and now it’s the complete opposite; we’ve seen a huge population boost not only in our district, but in other districts. We’re becoming more of an urban setting. It seems to be the same way in all districts across the country,” he said.

Jordan School District also has a need for drivers.

“We always are short bus drivers; Every school district in Salt Lake County, or probably in the state, there’s high turnover,” said spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf. “And we’re a growing school district, so we always have more routes.”

To attract more drivers, Canyons has boosted their salaries to $21.19 per hour for starting pay. Attendant pay is $14 per hour. Wardle said there are part-time and full-time positions available for the 180-day school year and full-time contracts come with benefits.

Murray School District spokesman Doug Perry said Murray’s district also may be down a few drivers at any given time, along with the same numbers of nutrition services staff and custodians; the district also increased pay for those positions.

“We only have about a dozen or so regular bus drivers and about four dozen lunch workers and a couple dozen custodians in total so our shortages might be two-three positions at any given time out of those three groups, which is pretty manageable,” he said. 

Pay in Murray District for bus drivers is $22 to $25 per hour; nutrition service, $13 to $18 per hour; and custodians are $11 to $15 per hour.

Granite School District also continues to see “traditional vacancy challenges” in transportation and custodial departments as well as classroom and school aides, said spokesman Ben Horsley.

“Part-time para-professionals continue to be difficult to find in this economy,” he said. “One strange challenge is the amount of open school psychologist positions we still have at this point in the year.”

 

Starting salaries are about $21 per hour for bus drivers; $18 for custodians and $11 for hourly para-professionals.

In Canyons, commercial driver licenses are required before bus drivers take the wheel, however, there is free in-house training and testing, Wardle said. Drivers also are expected to perform a pre-trip “look over” that ranges from brake check to light cleaning. Eight mechanics on staff are responsible for repairs. 

Additionally, there are trainings for the position from first aid and CPR to student management and emergency evacuation. Attendants also have additional training for working with students with special needs and learn how to load a wheelchair and strap it securely, he said.

Flexibility and schedules being similar to schools attract many personnel to the position. Wardle, when he was a driver, was able to study in between routes and said the position is attractive to parents, who start and end their day at about the same time of their kids and have the same school vacation schedule.

“The kids are the highlights from drivers. They get to know them. They’ve seen them from kindergarten through high school. Some of them work well into their early 80s because they love the kids,” he said.

While Riesgraf said Jordan School District has a “moderate” need for nutrition services staff, Canyons District is looking to hire 34 kitchen staff and 23 cashiers in schools for the upcoming school year, said Sebasthian Varas, nutrition services director.

Starting wages increased for those positions in Canyons with starting pay at $15.50 per hour for kitchen staff who typically prep and cook meals and deep clean the kitchen afterward; and $12.16 per hour for cashiers, who are responsible for ensuring student meals meet with the USDA guidelines for reimbursement of the meal. There are advancement possibilities, he added.

Canyons positions include training in equipment, first aid and district policies; each employee is responsible for having a food handler’s permit. Ideal candidates should be able to follow directions, work as a team, be able to meet some of the physical demands of the job and have a high school diploma or are working to earn a GED or equivalent, Varas said.

He said that it’s an ideal position people who want day-time positions and especially, for parents.

“If your kids are at the school, you work the time when they’re at school and you’re at home when they’re home. You don’t work any weekends or holidays and we provide you with a lunch and you’re making some extra money,” he said. “It’s a fun job. You get to interact with the students, which I think is fantastic. This is a great opportunity to make a difference in a student’s life. I think one thing that we’ve learned from the pandemic is how essential the nutrition services workers are. So, if they truly want to make a difference in someone’s life, come and work with us. It’s hard work, but it’s a very rewarding position, knowing that we’re feeding students.”