POCATELLO — The sign reads, “The best bus driver ever.”
The man holding the sign is Charles “Dana” Lloyd, a bus driver for the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25. Four years ago, Lloyd came out of semi-retirement from a lucrative career in pharmaceutical sales to join the district’s transportation team.
“I won plenty of awards during my career in sales,” Lloyd said, holding up the colorful sign presented to him by nine kids on his daily Tyhee route, “but this one was really special.”
Lloyd received the hand-colored picture during his first year driving, and it’s something he’s cherished ever since.
“When you get something like this, it’s personal. It means you are making a positive impact and doing the job the way you are supposed to,” he said.
On many school days, one of the faces most frequently seen doesn’t belong to the school principal, the teacher or even other learners — it’s the face of the school bus driver, people like Lloyd who are charged with the safe delivery of dozens of learners to school in the morning and home again in the afternoon. Lloyd understands that first interaction with his passengers can set the tone for their entire school day, so he tries to make it a good one.
“Each day provides an opportunity to start a child’s day off right and remind them that they are special and important,” he said.
The School District 25 Transportation Department operates a fleet of 85 buses. Bus drivers transport learners to and from school, field trips for instructional purposes, and extra-curricular activities and events. District school buses travel nearly 800,000 miles annually and transport approximately 8,400 learners daily.
The emergence of COVID-19 has complicated an existing bus driver shortage, further hampering the district’s ability to recruit and retain the full roster of drivers needed to serve its broad transportation needs. As a result, the district is currently seeking to hire 20 new bus drivers. Applicants are required to be 21 years of age. The school district covers the cost to train new drivers to obtain a Class B commercial driver’s license with a passenger/school bus endorsement.
To further entice applicants, the school district is currently offering a $1,000 stipend to new hires. Existing drivers may also earn a $750 stipend if they fully meet the eligibility requirements by the end of the year. Individuals may apply online at sd25.us, apply at the Idaho Department of Labor or call 208-235-3233, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
According to Lloyd, the biggest initial challenge for him was learning how a school bus runs. He pays close attention during his daily pre-trip exercises — the most important part of the day — so he can immediately address any maintenance issues that arise. From that point, he said it’s just a matter of staying on schedule and being prepared for any emergency.
Lloyd enjoys the flexibility his staggered driving schedule provides. Typically, school bus drivers work early in the mornings and then late in the afternoon, with a long break in-between. Lloyd utilizes that time to read, relax, run errands or work on the personal history he is currently writing. His wife, Gwen, is also employed by the school district. “Getting things done during the day frees us up to enjoy our evenings together,” he explained.
Lloyd credits his colleagues and passengers for the ease with which they have embraced this year’s new guidelines implemented to address the pandemic. Even his youngest passengers only need an occasional reminder to mask up.
“We are all doing everything we need to be doing to right now,” he said, “so I don’t feel any fear in coming to work.”
Lloyd considers the part-time driving gig to be a bucket list goal achieved. He acted on the instinct shortly after a friend counseled him that driving a school bus is one of the greatest acts of community service. He doesn’t hesitate to share his positive experience when he gets asked why he drives a school bus, which happens frequently.
He said, “I tell them: ‘Why not?’ If you want to enrich your life, become a bus driver. You can make a difference in everything you do.”