Pay the school bus drivers who care for your children more

In this time of crazy inflation and insane gas prices, there are many people who are hurting for hourly pay increases, including school bus drivers. These are the men and women who are driving your children to and from school and their activities every day.

School bus drivers are severely underpaid and it is time for parents to stand up for them. They are, after all, responsible for your greatest treasures.

I recently left my job as a school bus driver for a better-paying position. After taxes while bus driving, I made $29 per bus ride, which was approximately $1 per child on my bus. A former co-worker of mine drives about 75 children so he makes around 39 cents per child, per ride. Think about that. Isn’t your child’s life and their safe transportation to their education worth more?

Being a school bus driver is a lot of work. It entails getting up in the dark, many times in negative-degree temperatures, doing a safety check of the bus before each trip, making sure the children are behaving in a safe manner, all while maneuvering a 40-foot vehicle in traffic.

I sincerely feel bad for leaving my kids and a job I enjoyed. I feel worse for the bus companies who continue to lose great drivers. I worked hard to keep your children safe. I made the kids happy. I talked to them, listened to their stories and brought them snacks and stickers. I stood up for them when they were crying in freezing weather because the bus was too cold. We bus drivers were required to keep four windows open to “let the COVID out.” We closed the windows on my bus on the coldest days. I even went so far as to go to our local Walmart and get a donation of hats and gloves so every child was properly dressed for the cold.

Bus drivers protect children’s lives every day. Pharmacists and health care workers get paid handsomely because they are responsible for people’s health and lives. One bad decision can lead to a horrible outcome. Maybe school bus drivers don’t require the same compensation as those professions, but why not pay someone who is accountable for protecting children’s lives an appropriate salary?

Schools and bus companies will tell you they have a school bus driver shortage, and there is. They nearly had to enlist the National Guard for assistance this school year. The real reason for the shortage is few people want to get paid so very little for such a huge responsibility. As parents, don’t you want the best people driving your children? School bus drivers should be paid a fair enough wage that there is an abundance of available drivers.

Companies may argue wage increases saying, if you want to get paid more, then there are plenty of hours you can pickup driving for after-school activities. I have seen the results of this. School bus drivers are driving until 9 p.m. for children’s sports and then get up again at 4 a.m. to drive the morning route. Desperate drivers trying to make ends meet by working too many hours is unsafe for everyone.

I am a 40-year-old woman with a family who simply cannot survive on a teenager’s wage. I am sad that I had to leave my job as a school bus driver, but I shouldn’t be faulted for my difficult decision.

Instead, I am writing this column in hopes the community and parents will rally in support of our school bus drivers to pay them more. I would happily return to my position taking care of your children, if only I made enough to take care of my family too.

Laura Hahn lives in Harvard, Illinois.