After retiring three years ago from successful careers in healthcare administration and banking, David Hoffman thought he would spend more time playing golf.
“I love golf,” he said, “but I don’t want to play golf every day.”
Then a friend who was a Muscogee County School District bus driver asked him, “If you’re bored, why don’t you try driving a bus?”
So he did.
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“And I got hooked,” he said.
Hoffman, whose previous jobs include being an executive for Synovus and directing Columbus Hospice, got hooked on having an opportunity to make a positive daily impact on children’s lives while also taking on the responsibility of safely transporting them to school.
“A lot of children’s parents work and can’t take their kids to school,” he said. “I’m the first person they see in the morning, and I’m the last person they see in the afternoon. …You get to know their name. They tell you things their parents probably wouldn’t want you to hear.”
MCSD is looking for more folks like Hoffman to help solve its shortage of bus drivers. As of Wednesday morning, the number of vacancies were 20 full-time (out of 217 positions) and four part-time (out of 12 positions), said MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham.
During a year in which MCSD buses have made news for a spate of delays and mishaps, the Ledger-Enquirer wondered: Why would someone want to be a school bus driver? So here are the top five reasons, according to Hoffman:
MCSD bus drivers can work as few as 25 hours per week and still get full-time benefits, including health insurance, dental insurance and retirement. But with a shortage of drivers, Hoffman often works at least 40 hours per week, plus time-and-a-half for overtime.
Hoffman said he earns $15.08 per hour after starting at “12-something” in March 2015, “but that’s before we had an increase.”
Now, the starting pay for regular bus drivers ranges from $13.96 per hour with no experience to $15.61 per hour with at least 10 years having a commercial driver’s license, said MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin. The starting pay for special-education bus drivers ranges from $15.39 per hour with no experience to $17.21 with at least 10 years having a CDL, she said.
Drivers can choose to work morning or afternoon shifts or both, plus field trips and sporting events. Hoffman parks his bus at Midland Academy -- "two minutes" from his home, he said.
His typical daily schedule starts with being at his bus at 5:45 a.m. to warm it up. He does a pre-trip inspection to ensure the bus is properly working. He leaves at 6:20 a.m. for his first pickup at 6:27 a.m. He is back home by 8:40 a.m. – enough time for some golf – then does his afternoon shift, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
“I have four hours in the middle of the day to do anything I want,” he said.
Hoffman gets paid for extra hours by driving students for field trips and sporting events. “I take buses all over Georgia,” he said.
Summers, holidays off
Hoffman’s wife, Barbara, is a teacher’s aide at Britt David Magnet Academy. So they both are off work during the summer while still getting paychecks because their salaries are spread over 12 months.
“I really enjoy having that break,” he said. “… And it’s not just the summers.”
Bus drivers also receive one day of sick leave per month worked and are off when the students are off, including each major holiday.
Hoffman, 67, isn’t the only MCSD bus driver whose background makes it seem that he is overqualified.
“There are people in here that have a lot of education and have a lot of experience and have had big jobs,” he said, “but they don’t want to hang around McDonald’s all day.”
Understanding his priority is driving safely, Hoffman has pulled the bus over to handle a situation.
“If they have a problem, they come to you and you build this relationship, a trust relationship, with them,” he said. “Some kids will never do it, but the kids that you can make a difference with and get turned around a little bit, I can tell when someone’s upset and something has happened at home.”
For example, the day before the Ledger-Enquirer’s interview, Hoffman stopped his bus en route because a student was crying. She was worried what her mother would do because the principal called her to report a discipline violation.
“It’s going to be all right,” Hoffman said he told the girl. “Your mother probably understands. Just tell her what happened and tell her you’re not going to do it again.”
Hoffman added, “You can’t touch children, but sometimes you can’t help it because one of the little ones will come up and grab me and want to hug me. “Not every driver’s going to be this way, but I see that I’m doing something. I don’t want to waste my mind, and I’m not.”
Hoffman calls his colleagues “a band of brothers. … We look out after each other. We’re friends.”
He likes feeling part of a system that educates children. “It takes a team effort,” he said. “… You can’t teach them unless they get to school.”
MCSD’s 273 buses combine to cover approximately 10,000 miles per day. The average American driver covers 13,476 miles per year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Hoffman drives an MCSD bus an average of approximately 75 miles per day, and his only accident in 2 ½ years was when he cracked his bus’ side-view mirror on a downspout at Blanchard Elementary School.
MCSD reported four accidents in one week this month, plus two fires aboard buses the previous month. “We’ve got so many vehicles, so many miles,” Hoffman said. “Statistically, things are going to happen.”
Growing up in Florida, even he “terrorized the bus driver,” so now as a driver monitoring student behavior himself, Hoffman said, “I know everything they’re going to do before they do it.”
One time, however, an especially disruptive moment wasn’t any human’s fault. These middle school students were causing such a commotion and wouldn’t settle down, Hoffman turned the bus around and brought them back to school.
“All heck breaks loose, and I thought there was a fight,” he said. “They’re jumping over seats. Shoes are banging on the window. I’m yelling, ‘Stop! Stop!’ But nobody’s listening to me.”
Hoffman didn’t learn until he drove the bus back to the school that a yellow jacket trapped in the bus was the reason. “We got a good laugh out of it,” he said. Hoffman joked that driving a school bus is one of the few jobs “where all your problems are behind you.”
HOW TO BECOME AN MCSD BUS DRIVER
Here are the steps, outlined by MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin:
Complete an MCSD online application.
Authorize MCSD to access your Motor Vehicle History Report and meet minimum standards.
Complete an FBI/GBI criminal background check and MCSD reference checks.
Complete all medical reviews and a Georgia Department of Transportation mandated physical.
Note: “Preference is given to those applicants who already possess a CDL or a CDL Permit,” Tessin said. “ All applicants must also successfully complete the state CDL written test, classroom and on-the-road driving training before final hire.”