Aug. 12—Daviess County Public Schools bus drivers gathered Thursday morning in front of Burns Middle School in a show of support for DCPS' administration and the school district's Transportation Department.
Waving homemade "Thank You" and "You're Amazing" signs, the drivers wanted to counter an onslaught of public criticism directed at DCPS since it announced Tuesday night — the eve of the first day of school — that it was postponing the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.
DCPS officials have blamed Transfinder, the bus routing software company, for the delay. Transfinder is helping streamline DCPS' bus routes due to a shortage of drivers.
Veteran DCPS bus drivers Christa Martell, Kim Welborn and Sherri Dockery were among those who gathered to give their support.
Welborn, a bus driver for 16 years, said the backlash against DCPS officials and transportation office staff has been unjustified.
"We're giving the office staff support," Welborn said. "They're the ones working relentlessly trying to get all of this worked out. ...We were just hoping to get everybody here and let our office staff know that we're 100% behind you, and we want to encourage you."
Welborn added that she understood why parents were frustrated by the late school cancelation notice.
"...But things happen in life; you either let it get you down or you rise up," she said. "We choose to rise up."
The impromptu "Celebration Caravan" was organized by Martell, who's been a DCPS bus driver for 10 years.
Martell said the bus drivers are part of a "strong team" that includes the transportation staff.
"I just want to be positive for our team; it wasn't an easy decision for anybody; they need to know we're on their team and they've been through a mess," Martell said. "...I talked to an office worker, and she was absolutely in a bad spot. She felt like she didn't have any support."
Dockery, who's been a DCPS bus driver for 15 years, said bus drivers become attached to students who ride their buses and they only want to resolve the routing issues in the most positive manner.
"My mom drove a bus for almost 30 years, and I told her she was crazy when she talked to me about it," Dockery said. "But 15 years later, I'm still here. So either I'm crazy or I just love it that much."
Superintendent Matt Robbins and DCPS Transportation Director Grady Cooper were at the transportation office, 1621 Southtown Blvd., when the caravan came through honking their horns and waving their signs shortly after 11 a.m.
Cooper said it meant a lot to him to receive the encouragement from the bus drivers.
"This is the strength we need; this is transportation," he said. "This is a representation of who we are and the family that we are."
Once the new bus routing software problems are ironed out, school officials believe it will allow them to utilize the number of bus drivers they have more efficiently.
DCPS will enter the school year with 90 full-time bus drivers.
"We could use another 10 to 15 so that we could complete our sub pool and provide an even better service," Cooper said. "In actuality, we've been seeing some applications show up, but we need more."
The starting pay for a full-time DCPS bus driver is $15.91 per hour. But once hired, there is a training process that takes weeks before a bus driver can be road-ready.
"Six weeks is the fastest, and that's if everything goes well," Cooper said.
Robbins said it's hard to compete pay wise with private sector jobs, especially ones that require CDLs for their drivers.
"We're fortunate that a lot of our drivers have been with us for a long time; the pay aspect is always relevant," Robbins said. "But they believe in what they do because they love to be around children."
Don Wilkins, dwilkins @messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299