Haywood County Schools is honoring bus drivers February 10-14 as part of North Carolina School Bus Appreciation Week. Each day during the school year, students living on the rural roads of Fines Creek to the narrow neighborhood avenues of Canton are transported by Haywood County Schools’ buses. Haywood County Schools operates 71 buses, which transport an average of 3,200 students daily.

Schools across the county are honoring bus drivers throughout the week and recognizing them for their commitment to safely transporting students.

“I love my bus driver Mr. Bange,” Hazelwood fourth grader Teal said. “He’s a pretty funny guy, and he’s always happy to talk to me.”

Greg Bange is one of Haywood County Schools’ 85 bus drivers. He has been driving a school bus for Hazelwood Elementary School for the past three years.

Bange, a retired federal employee who worked in antiterrorism in New York, decided to apply for a bus driver job after hearing about the county’s shortage several years ago.

“The interaction with the kids each day is definitely the highlight of the job,” Bange explained with a smile. “As their bus driver, I get to be a positive influence in their life and help get them ready to have a good day at school.”

School bus drivers go through intense, highly-specialized training to ensure they are knowledgeable about student behavior management, school bus features, the loading and unloading process and security and emergency medical procedures. In order to keep their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with a School Bus Endorsement, drivers must participate in pre-employment and random drug and alcohol tests, driving record checks, background checks and medical exams.

The safety, security, health and driver qualification standards, by which the school bus industry abides, in some cases, exceed federal and state laws. This is to ensure that school buses remain the safest mode of transportation for school children.

“School bus drivers are providing a very necessary service to children in our area,” Mark Sheppard, Haywood County Schools director of transportation, said. “Bus Appreciation Week is an opportunity for us to thank the drivers who not only safely take our children to school each day, but also serve as their role models and friends.”

Many school districts across the state are facing a bus driver shortage, and Haywood County is no exception.

“Some drivers have to double up on routes, and it just throws the whole schedule off if we don’t have enough drivers,” Sheppard explained. “We often have to combine bus loads.”

Sheppard said Haywood County Schools has several bus driver positions open at different locations with morning, afternoon, and combination routes available.

“Being a school bus driver for Haywood County Schools is a great part-time job for anyone looking to earn extra income,” Sheppard said. “You don’t have to have previous experience because all training is provided.”

The process for getting a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requires three days of class and several days of behind-the-wheel training with a DMV instructor – all at no cost. Those interested in driving a bus can contact the Haywood County Schools transportation department at 828-456-2421 to register for one of the following training courses:

·       Buncombe County: February 18-20 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

·       Jackson County: February 24-26 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

·       Haywood County: April 15-17 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Submitted by:  Carrie Sutton, HCS Foundation