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Jim Hogg County ISD faculty and staff become bus drivers to prevent shortage

Posted at 6:30 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 19:30:12-05

HEBBRONVILLE, Texas — “Hello. Good afternoon. How are you?” Jessica Garza asks students from Jim Hogg County ISD every day.

She’s been a bus driver with the school district for six years and said what keeps her going is the consistent “crazy” schedule. She’s a bus driver, but also doubles as a custodian.

She said it’s not uncommon for her to have to go to several schools almost two hours away to get students to extracurricular activities like a basketball game or a baseball game, especially during the spring when there’s a lot of sports in season.

“We left high school varsity in Robstown to play the tournament, which was going to be several games as well, while I drove with the bus and the team over to Sinton,” Garza said.

Jim Hogg County ISD is now missing one bus driver after he moved on from the job. Their superintendent said it’s happened before, but because one of their bus drivers left, they want to make sure a shortage is not caused if someone ends up calling in sick, especially with omicron spreading.

That’s why they’re training faculty and staff members to take on an extra duty as a school bus driver.

Ernie Perez, the ESSER and transportation manager, said they actually have too many buses and not enough drivers with a CDL license. He said faculty and staff are taking a 20 hour bus driver course, which will allow them to drive a 14 passenger bus. He said in Texas it’s not required of bus drivers to have a CDL license if the bus only accommodates 14 passengers.

“It involves all the safety features of the bus, what you have to do when kids are getting on and off the bus. Everything about the lights, what to do at stop sings, what to do at railroad crossings, everything that’s pretty much day to day for you as a regular driver, but just a little bit different,” Perez said.

Perez said faculty and staff members doubling up on bus driver duties and their primary job wouldn’t cause a shortage of workers in their primary job. That’s because every bus driver in the past has always had another primary job in maintenance or custodial work because they have a smaller school district, so it’s typical for the bus drivers to wear many hats in the district.

Some staff members like Lauren Arce, the assistant principal of Hebbronville Jr. High SChool, stepped up to assist. She said being a bus driver would allow her to not just drive students to extracurricular activities and events, but also supervise them, which she has already been doing.

“We’re going to ensure all the students’ safety and make sure that we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that the students are having an excellent learning experience here at our district,” Arce said.