HURON — “I had never driven a bus before I started five years ago,” said Rex Sawvell. “I had no idea what I would encounter, but what I’ve found is the kids on the bus really are nice, friendly, funny, they want to enjoy it just like we do, and once you get to know them, you’ll love driving the bus.”
Sawvell is the Transportation Director for the Huron School District, and he is looking for bus drivers to join his group.
“We have a great team that has come a long way; we just want to add some more people to it,” Sawvell said.
In the last school year the yellow busses drove 178,936 miles carrying students to and from school; the activity busses for field trips drove another 21,760 miles, and the coach busses drove 31,245 miles. All of these miles were injury free for all passengers, Sawvell said, “That’s a great record we hope to maintain.”
There are 22 full-time routes currently that transport 1,150 kids between their homes and schools every day, twice a day.
Two of the routes are high school students only, three busses are for special education students, and the remaining 17 busses cover the routes for the rest of the school buildings, which are separated by age.
“Having the separate ages on the busses has resulted in far fewer issues between the students the past two years,” Sawvell said.
The “bus barn,” located at industrial park is where all the school district busses are kept when not in use.
This bus garage is an asset to the district, as it is able to house all of the district’s busses. Before, the district’s transportation fleet was housed in a two-bus stall on the S.D. State Fairgrounds.
Every few years, when the busses reach around 200,000 miles, they are traded, to ensure students are being transported as safely as possible.
The trips happen twice a day, the morning run and the afternoon run. Every morning the bus drivers fill out their “pre-inspection” forms to ensure the bus is safe and running as it should be.
For the afternoon run the drivers go to the bus barn and take the bus out on its designated route. Once all the students have boarded the bus, the busses gather at Huron Middle School for bus transfer.
Most of the students know which bus they were to switch to, so the transfer is a smooth operation, plus the supervision by staff keeps the process down to about ten minutes.
It is also the bus driver’s duty to walk the bus aisle when the students depart, looking under the seats to make sure nobody and nothing is left on the bus.
Sawvell checks the roads and clears them during every transfer and directs the busses out safely, “we try and keep movement as minimal as possible,” Sawvell said.
After all the bus drivers and staff have confirmed that the students are on the correct busses, the kids are brought to their final stops.
When dropping off, drivers raise a “stop sign” and check the roads to make sure they are clear before allowing anyone to walk off the bus.
Bus driver Joni Packard highlights that safety comes first when it comes to the students and getting them where they need to be.
“The kids have a lot of fun, which I don’t mind, but they have to be safe,” Packard said.
The kids who boarded Packard’s Route 16 Thursday afternoon bus, had smiles on their faces as they greeted their driver and friends.
They were full of excitement but control was clearly in place as the students were respectful, friendly, interested, and they all stayed seated throughout the journey.
Fifth-grader, Rhyanna said, “what I like about riding the bus is the bus driver, she’s super nice, and sitting by my friends is fun.”
To continue the practice of safety first, there are plans in place to progress to tracking software so it is possible to know what time the students got on their bus and left their bus, with a card on a lanyard that the students will be able to scan.
There are bus conduct forms which allow the drivers to monitor the kids’ behaviors on the bus, if a student misbehaves they will have a bus conduct form written up explaining what happened, the driver signs this and sends it to the principal where it will be followed up with bus suspension.
The department makes sure the drivers are well trained and every summer the bus drivers receive additional training on various topics, “we try and get them as much training as we can throughout the year,” said Sawvell.
“If the drivers want to work extra hours I try to offer work in custodial, grounds keeping,” Sawvell said, “I try to work with them and make the effort to provide extra hours somewhere in the district if they want them.” There is also a $500 sign-on bonus for full-time drivers and $250 for part time drivers, which is divided and given half at the start of the year and the other half at the end of the year.
Next year the plan is to grow to three more routes, meaning that the department is currently six drivers short.
Sawvell encourages anyone who is interested in applying to call Kathie Bostrom, Team Leader at the transportation department, at 353-6989, and arrange an appointment to ride on one of the bus routes to experience what it is like.