VERONA – As schools begin to return to normal operations for the 2021 academic year, districts across the state are all going to face one common problem: a severe lack of school bus drivers.
The impact this shortage will likely be felt across every aspect of school districts.
“Some districts could have to use emergency days or go virtual for a period of time, simply because they can’t get the children to school,” said John Brown, CSEA Special Local Government Schools Committee Chair.
Brown, who is also the Oneida County Educational Local President, said sports and extracurricular activities could suffer the most.
To help address the driver shortage, Brown and the local’s executive committee hosted a school bus rodeo competition to spread awareness of the shortage issue to state and local government officials, school administrators, Board of Education members, and the greater community.
“John and his team put [the rodeo]together to thank our CSEA bus drivers for what they do every day, and let them know our union is there, and to encourage [community members]to consider a job as a bus driver,” CSEA Central Region President Kenny Greenleaf said.
No spurs needed for this rodeo
The bus rodeo in the parking lot of the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School parking lot, held August 24, gave CSEA members employed as drivers a chance to showcase their skills in a friendly competition.
The competition, judged by local BOCES transportation representatives, focused on the drivers’ technical abilities from the start of their bus run to the end.
Stations included the proper procedure for picking up students, stopping at railroad tracks, dropping students off, helping them cross the road, and ended with some maneuvering challenges such as going around barrels and through tight lanes.
The top drivers were: 5th Place – Joe Lazarek (VVS); 4th Place – Rick Roberts (VVS); 3rd Place – Ken Oaksford (VVS); 2nd Place – Ranier Beers (Remsen); and 1st Place – Brad Boyson (VVS).
Pay, benefits & insurance
Among the competitors was rookie driver Elizabeth Dudrak, 31, from Holland Patent Central School District. She had been driving permitted for just five weeks before the contest and was a week away from taking her final test.
What got her interested in becoming a full-time driver? The health insurance and benefits.
“School districts offer many benefits after you become a driver. The pay is excellent in most places and the job is extremely rewarding,” Brown said. “Plus, at many districts, you get to be a union member, hopefully with CSEA.”
Dudrak described her experience learning to drive a bus as “a lot of fun.”
“[Driving a school bus] is not as hard as everyone thinks it is,” she said. “It’s the road test part that is hard to prepare for with everything you need to know compared with everything you would do on a daily basis for your bus run.”
Dudrak said she enjoyed a chance to show off her newly learned skills and was satisfied with her performance on the course.
“I feel like I did great except for that one spot I’m mad about where I hit that tennis ball,” she said.
Activists working hard
Brown said he is always thinking about new ways to reach CSEA members in school districts and how to represent them to the best of his ability.
“A lot of time and effort went into planning this and it’s all because John had an insight,” Greenleaf said. “That’s what he’s bringing to the table every single day being the Statewide Schools Committee Chair.”
Brian Schorer, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill School District Unit President, who also serves as the Oneida County Educational Local 2nd Vice President, was also key in pulling off this event. He said he was happy with the turnout for how quickly they put the event together, and praised Brown’s passion.
“He’s one of those guys that cares about [CSEA] members and wants to help out every school district, and that’s just what the union is all about,” Schorer said.
Overall, the event was a great chance to bring the local together in a fun and rewarding way.
“We want members to know that even though we don’t win every battle, we’re out there fighting them all for them,” Greenleaf said. “We’re trying to improve the conditions for transportation workers as well as all school district employees. This event is showing them that they can reach out to us and we’re going to do the best way can for them.”