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A person would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not think education is invaluable to our next generation. From my perspective, education is essential to being a productive member of society, whether your highest level of education is high school, trade school, military, or a doctorate from the finest Ivy League University.

The first step in getting access to education is by being in school. A new challenge we are facing across the country, and specifically in Humboldt County and Eureka City Schools, is getting children to-and-from school, specifically by way of a school bus. Nearly one in five of our students depend on a school bus for transportation. Some students have special needs, necessitating transportation in a specially equipped bus, without which they could not attend school at all. In recent years, Eureka City Schools has seen a large number of our veteran staff of bus drivers retire and we, like other organizations, have been struggling to hire bus drivers and fill these important positions.

Bus drivers have the unique opportunity to be the first and last contact of the day with students. Bus drivers are often the first staff member to greet students in the morning and help set the tone for the day. Bus drivers are also relied on to get students to special events such as field trips and sporting matches, contests, and competitions. Bus drivers interact daily with children of all ages and are role models for students.

Currently, Eureka City Schools has six bus drivers on staff, with a need for 10. We need four additional drivers as soon as possible. The impact of not having enough bus drivers is felt daily and forces us to consolidate bus routes, hire retirees to come back and drive for us, and having our Director of Transportation drive. We are fortunate that we have been getting by with the number of drivers we have, but the impact is felt by students who have to be on the bus for longer periods of time.

As we move forward, it will be imperative for us to find qualified bus drivers to get children to school. To qualify to be trained as a bus driver, you need a clean driving record, to be drug-free, be able to pass a criminal background check, and willing to go through the Eureka City Schools training program. The process entails approximately two months of part-time training. Upon completion of the training, and after working for the district for 30 days, newly licensed drivers will be reimbursed for their DMV, fingerprints, and medical exam expenses (about $220).

If you have an interest in driving a school bus or know someone who would be, I encourage you to contact your local school. If you are interested in joining the team at Eureka City Schools, please contact the Transportation Department at 707-441-2504. Additional information, and complete job description can be found at www.eurekacityschools.org. With the driver shortage being a nation-wide issue, almost all schools are looking for bus drivers. The hourly wages vary from district to district, but at Eureka City Schools, bus drivers earn from $15.60 to $23.10 per hour and receive health and welfare benefits.

Fred Van Vleck, Ed.D., is superintendent of Eureka City Schools.

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