Training a new generation of school bus drivers in Nashville amid shortage

Managers say recent pay increase is bringing drivers back to Metro Schools
Posted at 10:39 AM, Aug 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-08 11:42:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Last school year, Metro school bus drivers rallied against what they called a crisis.

Too few drivers meant available employees sometimes drove triple the routes, running behind schedule and frustrating kids and parents.

In a fast-growing community, many drivers said they couldn't afford to live and work in Nashville.

But after Metro Council approved a starting pay increase from $16.87 to $22.25 per hour, this year drivers are working with higher wages and the promise of more help.

Currently, 17 applicants are going through the process of being approved and trained, said MNPS Transportation Manager Ron Franklin.

"The pay (increase) is great, but it was showing the drivers...that 'we're behind you and we understand that you needed the pay,'" he said.

On the first day of school Monday, Shaketa Washington will be behind the wheel of one of the 260 Metro buses on the road. She's a returning driver, who spent the last five years working for the district as a substitute teacher.

"I like being in my own little - I call it my cubicle here," she said, from behind the wheel.

Washington is getting re-trained and certified, maneuvering through the cones at a lot near Antioch Middle School that's known as "the range."

As she heads back to a new year at an old job, she knows driving the bus takes more than technical skill.

"You have to have patience and you have to love what you're doing," she said.

Washington is one of many returning drivers this year.

"We have seen drivers coming back to us now since we got our pay increase. We've got several from Wilson County that left us, Williamson County and then we got some back that was at MTA," he said.

Metro is still short around 70 drivers, but for the first time in a while, Franklin said things are looking up.

"We're gradually going to get back to where we need to be," he said.

Washington also hopes to have more colleagues soon.

"The more drivers you have, the better transportation, everybody gets to school on time," she said.

In the meantime, Metro warns that short-staffing could put the brakes on punctuality for some routes.

As they continue looking for drivers who love kids and want to support their community.

"I'm their first point of contact if they drive the school bus, so you know I have to have a smile on my face to greet them," Washington said. "Because you don’t know what they’re coming out of the house from."

It's a full 8-hour workday with half the shift in the morning and half in the afternoon.

You can also pick up overtime driving field trips and events.

No professional driving experience is needed. If you're interested, apply with the school district.