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Ride Along: What it's like being a Lee County Schools bus driver

Posted at 5:30 AM, Aug 10, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. — With employee shortages, many parents find themselves asking will my kid make it to school on time?

The Lee County School District is in need of bus drivers for the upcoming school year. A struggle that has been ongoing for months.

And yet— it’s the sound of school making a return. School buses being prepared in Lee County. But a problem from last year is also coming back this new school year.

"We’re still in desperate need of drivers.”

Right now, there are a total of 590 drivers within the Lee County School District. The district needs a total of 729 drivers. It’s a number that’s been going up since May.

“Drivers go out and get a second job," says Roger Lloyd, Executive Director of Transportation with Lee County School District. "Some come back, some don’t. So we’re treading water right now.”

But not all drivers are leaving.

“Well I like kids and it was kind of a career change for me so I decided to come here.”

Benjamin Mitchel has been driving school buses with the county for 8 years.

“Would you consider yourself one of the nicer bus drivers?”

Mitchel laughs. "Yes, I would. But sometimes you have to be firm because sometimes kids will test the boundaries to see what they can get away with.”

Aside from handling what’s happening behind him, Mitchel also has to keep his eyes on the road.

"The important thing is not to be overwhelmed because it is a big bus not to be overwhelmed," he says. "Once you get comfortable with your mirrors, it comes naturally pretty much after that.”

But drivers aren’t thrown into the mix right away. There’s plenty of training required that can take up to a week or two, along with some added benefits to the gig.

"We train you for your CDL," said Lloyd. "I know that’s a question that comes up. We actually pay you to go through the class, go through there and get your CDL license so we’re making it as simple as possible.”

It’s just one plea the district is making, hoping to spark interest in people becoming drivers. But if that doesn’t work maybe take Mitchel’s word.

"If you like kids, come on aboard," said Mitchel. "We are a team and we all work together.”

Lee County Schools is advising parents to download the phone app ‘Where’s the Bus’ to track their child’s bus route this school year. Parents can also sign up for ‘School Messenger’ where they can receive text messages and emails for bus route information.