Bus drivers play a vital role in getting students to and from school every day so Ector County ISD has to be vigilant about recruiting and retaining them.
ECISD just hired a new director of transportation, Kenneth Wallace, the former principal of Fort Stockton High School.
The district is also seeking bus drivers. It currently has 83 drivers and is short 30.
The transportation department has a total of 180 employees including trip scheduler, mechanics, monitors and others, Sam Magallan, executive director of district operations, said.
About 7,000 students are bused to school and the district has close to 34,000 children.
“It is a priority for us and I would just emphasize that there’s much work being done to ensure that we’re competitive, but also that we’re recruiting and doing our best to retain our staff,” Associate Superintendent of Athletics, Human Capital and Operations Anthony Sorola said.
Executive Director of Human Resources Natalie Fitzgerald said it’s a year-round effort to find and keep auxiliary employees.
“We had drivers retire, but we ran at least 23 short all last year,” Fitzgerald said.
Sorola said that is normal for districts the size of ECISD and even smaller.
“Dr. Spivy was telling me in his previous district, Greenville, they typically had a pretty high number of vacancies. And my prior experience, we had a large number of vacancies, as well,” Sorola said.
Spivy is Matthew Spivy, executive director of human resources at ECISD.
Fitzgerald agreed saying, when she’s out recruiting, it’s bus drivers they’re short.
“But the good thing is that we’re not complacent,” Sorola said.
He added that Fitzgerald is the human resources director specifically for auxiliary staffing.
“She and Audrie Lujan, who is our district recruiter, they have been busy at work … to get that number of vacancies for drivers down,” Sorola said.
Fitzgerald added that bus drivers can make more money in the oilfield.
Fitzgerald said the drivers get benefits and they can drive extra routes and make extra money. After 32 hours, it’s considered a full-time position, she added. Drivers can also sign up for extra routes if there are driver shortages and get extra hours that way.
Midland ISD is also paying $25 an hour for bus drivers.
Bus drivers at ECISD start at $21.25 an hour and training is available from both districts for a commercial drivers license.
Fitzgerald said once they get enough hours the district schedules the test for them. Sometimes the monitors are working their way toward a CDL.
She added that they can also make extra money by working the vocational routes taking students from Permian or Odessa High to George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, for example.
Drivers may start in the morning and break from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and driving the rest of the day.
It’s an interesting position because there is considerable flexibility. There’s opportunities for overtime for individuals whose schedules allow for that.
Data sent to the Texas Association of School Boards helps the district compare pay to other markets so ECISD is responsive to changes in the market.
“We’re constantly monitoring that information. We look at a local market comparison and then a statewide market comparison, similar size districts from our main competitors, so we are highly competitive with our competition both here locally (in the Permian Basin) and statewide. We are very competitive, very comparable. I know that Midland was mentioned, but once again, those comparisons go beyond one school district,” Sorola said.
He added that the district works with TASB human resources services and they provide ECISD with an evaluation of where they are as far as all positions in the organization.
“They provide us with guidance and input in the development and presentation of our compensation plan,” Sorola said.
He noted that they also look at part-time positions like substitute teachers.
“We look at all of those so that we’re highly competitive,” Sorola said.
“A lot of that does transfer over because transportation involves supervising a very large staff. They have (about) 180 employees in that department. He was a high school principal, so he’s used to managing large groups of people,” Sorola said.
“It involves interacting with parents … He’s had plenty of that as a lifelong teacher and principal, so there’s quite a bit of transfer. He also has his CDL and he has experience in transportation, having worked in smaller school districts,” he added. “We’re excited about him coming on board.”
Fitzgerald said they use LinkedIn to leverage Indeed and they work with Workforce Solutions. They go to Workforce Solutions twice a month on a Wednesday to seek auxiliary employees. She added that Workforce Solutions notifies anybody needing a job.
Fitzgerald said that has been very successful and it’s how they have been able to keep the custodian vacancy rate low.
They also use job fairs, Facebook and community events such as farmers’ markets.
“Then on all the campuses you’ll see in the next few weeks, big banners with our QR code to hire. We have one right there at Austin (Montessori),” elementary school, Fitzgerald said.
She added that she needs to get out and get banners on the rest of the campuses. There are also billboards on Interstate 20, State Highway 191, Andrews Highway and West County Road and in the Odessa American and on radio stations.
Sorola said he’s worked in other parts of Texas, but it seems the competition is a lot more challenging because of the need for commercial driver license drivers in the oil industry.
“When I was in East Texas, you have the lumber industry, so you need drivers with all the lumber trucks. But it didn’t seem like … the need was as high out there compared to … here in the Permian Basin,” Sorola said.
He added that the district can’t accept the norm of 23 bus driver vacancies because it signifies drivers having to drive multiple routes, students potentially getting to school late and home later.
“It’s just not efficient and so we are committed to being competitive, but also being really effective at recruiting and retaining our staff members across the board, but especially for this type of position because we know it’s one of the harder areas to fill across the state (and) across the country for that matter,” Sorola said.