Drive-a-Bus event attracts potential school bus drivers


“Make a left turn and go back toward the building. Turn left, putting on your turn signal, hand over hand. It turns like a car, but you have a long back end on a bus. Your speed is good. Now imagine a student is standing at that fire hydrant. Hit the orange button about 300 feet before …”

These are the instructions School Bus Training Driver Dave Chattam gave to Charlene Belsole as she stepped onto a long yellow school bus and attempted to drive for the first time. Belsole, as well as approximately 20 other potential drivers, volunteered to drive the obstacle course set around Granger Elementary School as part of the Highland Local School District’s first Drive-a-Bus event, aimed at recruiting additional school bus drivers for the district.

“I know there is a need for drivers,” said Belsole. “I have children in the district and I have some flexibility with time. I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see what I can do.’”

The bus driver shortage is a nationwide crisis and schools across the country are doing everything they can to recruit more drivers. Locally, the shortage has resulted in combined routes, double routes and, in some instances, the cancellation of after school events.

Highland Transportation Director Frank Lawrence attributes the shortage to a number of factors including a natural attrition of retiring drivers, as well as other drivers turning to alternative driving jobs, such as those with Door Dash and Uber.

“There’s been a tremendous decline in people wanting to drive school buses,” said Lawrence, who brings with him approximately 50 years driving experience, including 46 years with UPS and four as the Highland’s transportation director.

Like most districts, Highland has been heavily recruiting “though every possible means,” Superintendent Katherine Aukerman said.

“We do social media, advertise on our website, have buses in local parades with help wanted signs on the windshield and we have signs everywhere,” said Aukerman.

To date, the efforts have not been enough.

School Board Member Missy Schreiner said the idea of offering people an opportunity to drive a bus sprung from the Ohio School Board Association’s fall conference. Schriener said the Olentangy schools presented the idea at the conference and Highland school officials thought they would give it a try.

The weather held out for the April 20 event and as potential drivers walked into the lobby for their scheduled time, they were offered Highland mugs, wrist bands and stickers.

Brightly colored flyers advertised the job specifics. Permanent and substitute positions are currently available for morning or afternoon routes or both. Pay starts at an hourly rate of $24.44-$32.33 and drivers are eligible for benefits and a $2,500 signing bonus.

 “I am aware there’s a national shortage and I wanted to see how difficult it might be,” said Stacey Horfeck. “I felt driving a bus in Highland provides a safe work environment and I wanted to make some extra income.”

Prospective driver Kelly Dorden said she is looking for a career change.

“I am now retired from the Navy and I don’t want an office job,” she said. “Driving a school bus piqued my interest. You are not stuck in a cubicle all day. Now that I’m retired from the Navy, I still want to stay busy, yet not necessarily have a full-time job.”

Chattam, a Hinckley resident, has been driving a bus for 20 years and currently has a route in the western section of Hinckley Township.

“I joke that this is my third retirement,” said Chattam. “The kids always ask me how old I am and I tell them I’m 359 years old. I tell them I’ve watched students grow and graduate.”

Lawrence said drivers initially go through a 15-hour training class to obtain their temporary license.

“I believe [Highland offers] a well-rounded package of training, hours, pay and benefits,” he said. “We make sure our drivers feel confident before they go out on the road. In the transportation department, we are family.”

The Highland District is continually taking applications for drivers. Those interested are asked to contact the Highland Transportation Department at 330-239-1901, ext. 1219, or visit ∞

Photo: Taking a turn behind the wheel of a Highland school bus is Charlene Belsole, assisted by driving instructor Dave Chattam. Belsole was among approximately 20 candidates who took the opportunity to drive a school bus through an obstacle course set around Granger Elementary School during a recent bus driver recruitment event. Photo by Chris Studor.