Posted 1/20/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
One of the biggest challenges that the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 experiences during the winter months is informing parents of issues that arise with its bus schedules due to weather-related conditions. Sometimes due to storm conditions or bad roads, school buses are delayed or may be cancelled.
Those same concerns were shared by parents who wondered if buses were running later or not at all. And now, thanks to Facebook, the district can immediately share bus route information with parents and students.
“We want to be able to better inform the parents out there about the bus routes, weather and road conditions,” said Beth Byrd, McKenzie County Public School District #1 school bus driver and the person responsible for creating the site. “It was the day when there were white-out conditions with the blowing snow, and so many calls were coming in from concerned parents wondering if buses were running and if routes were still open. I told Jim it was time to have a Facebook page.”
The Facebook page is called ‘McKenzie County School Bus.’ Within the first half hour of launching on Jan. 8, the page had about 100 likes. After the first full week of running, the page had 319 likes, and had reached over 4,000 people and had engaged close to 500 Facebook users.
“Social media is the way to communicate with people right now,” said Jim Svihovec, McKenzie County School District #1 Transportation director. “I was pleasantly surprised with the positive reaction of the community. It’s nice to know that people are out there looking for answers, and we are able to provide them those answers. There are some good things that social media can provide to people - and I’m glad this page can provide something good for our community.”
The Transportation Department will still take emails and calls from parents and the community, in addition to managing and updating the new Facebook page. All updates on the page will be posted by either Svihovec or the bus drivers. The page will also enable parents to make their own decisions about whether or not to transport their own children when bad weather or road conditions exist.
“At least people will know from this Facebook page that the answers are coming from the people who know what’s going on,” said Byrd. “So parents can know this page is providing accurate and updated information. And Jim is very good about keeping safety as the first priority and supporting the drivers when making these transportation decisions.”
The school transportation department’s page was intended to be informational for parents to find out quickly about buses, routes and general information. The Transportation Department welcomes the sharing of bus, weather and road conditions from fellow community Facebook users.
According to Svihovec, there was a dual purpose in creating this Facebook page - not only to enhance communication with parents and the community, but also to try and recruit more school bus drivers as well.
“We’re one funeral, one doctor’s appointment, and one sick child away from not running,” said Svihovec on the need for more bus drivers. “It’s that desperate right now. We currently have 18 drivers for 18 routes, with one sub driver who subs when he can. I’m picking up as many of the routes as I can right now, to keep them going as opposed to shutting them down; but, unfortunately I can’t do that all the time.”
With a severe shortage of both regular and substitute drivers, there are no guarantees on the existing routes. Routes that do not have substitute drivers may be shut down because there is not a driver.
And as of Friday, Jan. 16, the community was notified that Bus #19 was losing its driver, and would not be in service from Friday morning until another bus driver could be hired or another plan worked out.
“I know people are reluctant to drive bus for a number of reasons,” said Svihovec. “But I’d like to tell them to not be afraid of it. We train and support the drivers and make sure they feel comfortable before they ever drive kids. Beth came from Florida, where she had never even seen a snow flake. We hired her, trained her, and now she’s one of our best bus drivers with one of the longest routes. She has become a very huge asset to our school district.”
Both Svihovec and Byrd agree that being a school bus driver is a very rewarding job. They feel that there is something heartwarming about getting kids to school safely everyday.
“Being a bus driver is probably the closest job to being a parent that there is and you get paid for it,” said Byrd. “You get to know the kids and form relationships with them, their parents and their teachers. Plus, I think a school bus is probably one of the most safest vehicles to drive - they’re better on roads and have better traction. I feel more safe in my bus than I do my own car.”
Persons interested in becoming a school bus driver should contact Svihovec at 701-444-3828. A CDL license is required to drive the larger school buses, but not for the smaller ones. The entire process to obtain the CDL license is under $50. A package of health, medical, dental, vision and retirement benefits is available for school bus drivers that meet a specific amount of hours in their work schedule. And drivers are welcome to take their own children on their route with them.