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School districts looking to hire bus drivers

Districts attribute fewer applicants to Eagle Ford Shale trucking boom

SAN ANTONIO - Two weeks before buses begin picking up kids for class, area school districts are scrambling to fill bus driver positions.

The "Now Hiring" sign is out, and the need is urgent.

"We currently need about 50 more drivers," said Charles Rentschler, Northside Independent School District's assistant director of transportation.

The sprawling district has 860 buses, but not not enough drivers to get behind the wheel.  

Because not enough qualified bus drivers were found at the weekend job fair, NISD plans another job fair Saturday.

At Northeast Independent School District, 15 bus driver positions remain vacant.

"This year, there are fewer applicants," said Aubrey Chancellor, NEISD spokeswoman. "We are farther behind the eight ball of where we were last year."

Why the shortage? 

Three words, according to Bexar County's largest school districts: Eagle  Ford Shale. The booming oil and gas industry to the south has created a region rich in trucking jobs.

"What we do know is the Eagle Ford Shale project is offering more hours and a lot higher wages," Chancellor said.

School bus driver jobs are part-time positions, with starting pay between $11.50 and $12.50 an hour, depending on the district.

"I think the opportunity in the oil business is overtime," Rentschler said. "They work many hours and many days, so they get opportunity to make extra money."

Pat Fuentes, a driver with Northside for about 10 years, likes the hours her job requires.

"It's a good job," she said. "I like the in-between hours if you have a doctor's appointment or need to run errands."

Her morning run typically runs between 6:30 am and 9 a.m., while the afternoon run takes from about 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Bus drivers must be licensed to carry passengers and have a good driving record. The districts typically help the driver get the proper licensing and training.

The job also involves background checks, which take time, and with school starting Aug. 27, time is running out.

"I might end up driving a bus," Rentschler said. He was not joking.

Both districts say if they don't have enough hired bus drivers, qualified staff will get the kids to school.

"Those include office personnel, mechanics," Chancellor said. "They will likely be getting behind the wheel of a bus this year."

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.


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