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MEEKER | Tuesday night was the first work session of the newly re-constituted Meeker Board of Education. Just elected and re-elected board members Bill deVergie, Bud Ridings and Laurie Simonsen joined hold-over members Tom Allen, Kevin Amack and Bob Dorsett in the effort. Re-elected member David Smith was unable to attend.
The topic which garnered most of the board’s attention was the difficulty the school district has had finding school bus drivers. Superintendent Chris Selle said the district’s advertising over the last year has not resulted in any applicants. The situation has forced the district director of transportation, Roy Wedding, and mechanic, Vaughn Moodie, to split one route between them. The district has four other route drivers (with one in training, maybe) for five routes, but one or more of those is expected to retire by the end of the school year.
The district has three categories of drivers for the big buses: the route drivers, substitute drivers and special events (trip) drivers. Each has a slightly different pay schedule. At the urging of Selle and Wedding, the board discussed their dilemma. Wedding fears that the day of the stay-at-home mom or agricultural operator who could set their own hours and not be bound to the schedule of a regular job, and still be willing to work as a bus driver, is over. Further, he fears in this day of a much more complicated society, few people have the desire to put themselves out for part-time pay and, as board member Allen put it, “full-time responsibility.” Regular special events drivers have been the hardest to find. In addition to Wedding, school board president Bud Ridings is one of only four special events drivers now. Ridings is unusual in that it’s an activity he was eager to take up after he had quit driving trucks on long hauls for work. But, Wedding suggests, with so few drivers in the district, there’s no real rest-rotation among drivers. The event drivers the district has are in demand almost all the time (every weekend, etc.) and get burned out.
The board discussed whether the district simply needs to be more aggressive in trying to recruit and advertise for drivers, whether they need to significantly increase driver pay, include benefits, reach out to certain sectors of the community who might be more interested in providing community service or expect coaches to drive for their teams. The latter idea was rejected after several members expressed concern about the wisdom of having coaches drive after being drained by the emotions and vigor of an athletic competition and the possible loss of coaches if they would be expected to drive as well as coach.
Allen repeatedly indicated that the district needs to offer a much better pay package for drivers.
Anyone interested in the possibility of becoming a school bus driver is urged to call Superintendent Selle at 970-878-9040 or transportation director Wedding at 970-878-9080.
The board will meet next Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., at the administration building, for their regular December meeting. A primary agenda item will be the options set forth in the final consultant’s report for the district’s facilities master plan and whether or not the district will pursue a state Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant to help pay for any of those options.