“Bus drivers are critically important for providing that safe transportation for our families, getting kids to school on time, making sure that families and kids have a reliable way to get to and from school,” he said.
Monty Cawker, an architect in Missoula, is training to become a school bus driver for the 2021 school year. He saw the potential job as an opportunity to provide a much-needed service to students in Missoula. “There’s a moral component to it,” he said.
About 4,000 public school students ride buses to and from class each day, zig-zagging residential streets in Missoula and reaching as far out of town as Beavertail Hill and Clearwater Junction.
Although Beach Transportation is in a tough spot now, Mitchell said the district’s modified bell times actually work to their advantage through a tiered route system. With the new schedule, middle school students will begin the day at 7:50 a.m., elementary will start at 8:15 a.m. and high schools will open at 8:55 a.m. The new start times result in staggered release times.
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Through a tiered route system, one bus can drop off middle school kids after they are released at 2:45 p.m. in time for picking up elementary students when they’re excused at 3:15 p.m., leaving ample time to run a third tier for high schoolers when they are dismissed at 3:55 p.m.
“You’re able to run all three tiers with one bus in the afternoon, but you’re only able to run one tier or two tiers in the morning. So that leaves just simple little routes there to cover,” Mitchell said.
Beach Transportation increased its starting wage to $16 an hour and guarantees employees at least four hours of work a day in order to be competitive in the current job market. They’ll even cover the cost of training and offer a $250 signing bonus after 60 days of employment.