A handful of elementary teachers at Carmel Clay Schools will drive buses next school year before and after spending their day in the classroom.
The district has struggled to find bus drivers for years, said Associate Superintendent Roger McMichael. Each drive two or three routes every day to try to be more efficient. Some days there aren't enough drivers for every bus, which McMichael said is difficult to make up for and causes students to be picked up late.
So administrators decided to try an unusual strategy: offering teachers $18,000 to get in the driver's seat.
McMichael gives two arguments for the approach: that this could be more convenient than other second jobs available to teachers and that teachers' ability to manage a classroom will make them a valuable bus driver.
"Teachers' background, by definition, makes them highly qualified to be a bus driver," McMichael said. "Clearly they have a love for children, but beyond that they know how to interact with children."
What a day looks like for a bus-driving teacher
Mike Bostic was the first teacher to take Carmel schools up on the offer last spring. He has gone through the extensive licensing process, which included weeks of training provided by the district.
Five more teachers are now going through the training.
Here's what Bostic said his day will look like when school starts in August:
- Each morning Bostic will drive to the transportation depot around 6 a.m. to pick up his bus.
- He'll start by picking up and dropping off middle and high school students, who start earlier in the morning.
- Then he'll run an elementary route that ends at the school where he teaches, Forest Dale Elementary.
- After working a full day as a physical education teacher, he'll leave about 10 minutes after school releases to do the same thing in reverse — starting with an elementary route and ending with a secondary route.
- "Then I'll come home and take a big nap," he said, likely around 4:30 p.m.
For Bostic, this seemed like a good opportunity to make more money without having to miss weeknights or weekends with his family. He said he will make more money than he did as varsity tennis coach, which he did for 15 years.
"I have two kids approaching college in the future, so this is a good way for me to start stocking away," Bostic said. "I think it’s a pretty innovative thing that Carmel came up with."
Not all of the district's 1,000-some teachers felt the same way when they got the email from administrators in the spring. Teachers union President Pete O'Hara said he saw a wide array of responses, including some teachers who were upset, or even offended, by the idea.
Teachers have so many other professional responsibilities; some feel they don’t have time to take on the additional burden of driving a bus, he said.
"If a teacher wants to take advantage of it, fine. I’m personally not offended by it," O'Hara said. "But those who feel offended by it, I certainly understand."
Many teachers stay after school to look at student data, grade work or plan lessons for the next day. There are also occasionally staff meetings before or after school.
'A long day of doing a very difficult job'
McMichael said he wouldn't fault teachers who don't want to drive a bus after "a long day of doing a very difficult job." But accommodations can be made for those who do want to take the option.
Last school year the district removed mandated hours for teachers, allowing them to work when needed outside of the school day rather than requiring that they stay at least 20 minutes after. That could allow them to lesson plan or grade later in the evening after getting home, McMichael said.
"First priority is to fulfill their responsibility as a teacher, so we are certainly not going to create an environment that prohibits that," he said.
The teachers union has not taken a stance on the issue, O'Hara said. The offer is outside of the teacher contract.
A 'desperate' need for bus drivers
McMichael said Carmel schools currently employs around 180 drivers but in the fall could use 10 more.
Right now the offer is only open to elementary teachers because they start later in the morning and therefore can run two routes. But McMichael said that could change after this school year if the district decides to change start times, something administrators are considering.
Over the past few years the district has tried to make the position more enticing to outside candidates. McMichael said Carmel schools offers a signing bonus and a $1,500 stipend after six months. Bus drivers make more than $100 a day, he said.
However, drivers are not offered benefits, which McMichael said limits the candidate pool.
In 2017, officials in neighboring Hamilton Southeastern Schools said a few factors contributed to their struggle to find bus drivers, including low unemployment rates, fewer farmers in the area and increased competition for minimum wage jobs after IKEA, Portillos and Topgolf opened.
Now the district is cutting back some services, including no longer busing students in the fall who chose to switch high schools.
During the a June 26 board meeting, Carmel officials pointed to a national shortage. School districts around the country have reported a struggle to hire drivers.
A 2018 survey from School Bus Fleet magazine found that 91 percent of responding school districts had a driver shortage. More than 30 percent said it was "severe" or "desperate."