By CASEY CROUCHER
A local transportation company says there's a shortage of school bus drivers for the upcoming school year, an age-old problem that is worse than it has ever been.
With the school year quickly approaching, Brown Transportation is advertising for school bus drivers in Amsterdam.
"I know we have a shortage in [school bus drivers] but that's something that's been an issue everywhere with any bus company over the years," company representative Ron Limoncelli said.
The company currently has a school bus parked on The Recorder's front lawn at Venner Road, and another parked on top of the Riverfront Center parking garage. Both buses have signs advertising for bus driver positions.
Jim Lomanto, a supervisor for the company, who deals with the recruitment of drivers, said getting people to fill the positions has become increasingly difficult each year.
"Years and years ago, this was largely an agricultural community," Lomanto said. "People who had dairy farms used to drive school buses in the morning and in the afternoon because it fit their lifestyle. But, unfortunately, the shifts for the school bus -- early in the morning with a split shift coming back in the afternoon -- doesn't fit a lot of people's lifestyles."
Lomanto said the demand for school bus drivers is much greater than it used to be and recruiting and maintaining a solid workforce is difficult. He said the entire company -- which covers Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs and Schenectady -- receives roughly 100 to 150 school bus driver applications annually, however only 30 percent of the applicants qualify for the position because applicants must have a clean license.
"Unfortunately, some folks come to us and apply, and their driver's license has issues and it disqualifies them from getting a commercial driver's license in order to drive a bus," he said.
The requirements for a school bus driver are significantly more than a regular city bus driver or charter driver because the state's education department oversees everything, including training, he said.
"Training is not a roadblock to our employment, however, because we provide the training for free," he said.
However, with school starting up again in only a few weeks, Lomanto said he's not too worried about the shortage.
"Brown is a 30-year-old company and we're always able to get the job done," he said. "School will open, we'll have drivers. We've always been very resourceful in finding ways to get the kids to school."
He said that the company's staff has people who can do double-duty.
"A lot of the people who work in the parking garage also have bus driver's licenses, some of our mechanics have bus driver's licenses, so on some of the days that we're short a driver a mechanic might become our bus driver. It's not the most cost-effective way to use our mechanics, but when we have to get the kids to school safely, that's how we do it."
He said a school bus driver typically works 25 to 30 hours a week, and the salary ranges from $12 to $14 an hour depending on the size of the bus.
Company-wide, Brown is looking to hire 35 to 40 positions with 15 positions in Amsterdam, including drivers and bus monitors.
Anyone interested in applying is advised to call Brown at 843-4700.