Johnson City School District short of bus drivers, needs at least 10 by new school year

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL/ABC Tri-Cities) It’s out with the old and in with the new. 

By winter, the Johnson City Transit will have replaced a few of the Johnson City cchool buses.

This is all thanks to $234,375 in funding from a grant after the Tennessee Volkswagen Diesel Settlement Environmental Mitigation Trust School Bus Replacement Grant Program.

A few of the 78-passenger 2006 models, with engines from 2004-2005 will be replaced with 2020 models.

The 2020 “All American” models possess Cummins ISB 6.7 220 HP engines. According to the Johnson City Transit press release, these engines follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2019 certified engine specifications.

“All of these new buses will have cross-arms. They have new buses higher back seats. They’ll be less flammable,” Johnson City Transit Planner 1, Bradley Osborne said. “It [cross-arms] comes out, and it extends out. It serves as a barrier to keep the kids safe.”

Osborne explained that the additions serve as protection in the event of an accident.

“We have the best drivers in the area. We have the most wonderful students, and these buses will help ensure that they have the safest and best buses,” Osborne said. 

Osborne said safety features inherent to newer buses include:

  • Decrease flammability
  • Child detection systems (Ensures no child is left alone on the bus)
  • Higher-backed, and safer seats
  • Improved lighting technology, more visible and increased line of sight
  • Cross arms (Extends and prevent students from walking across until the driver has ensure it is safe to do so)
  • Three position toggle switch (Enables bus driver to have more control over when lights are activated with relation to the door opening)
  • Improved electronic systems

While safety is on the school system’s radar, so is the need for bus drivers.

The district needs ten bus drivers by the time the new school year begins.

With a shortage this large, one concern is having other drivers working longer hours.

“If there’s no bus drivers, we’re going to be hindering their education,” Johnson City Transit school bus driver Joseph Chery said.

Chery has been with the school system since 2016.

“A lot of practice, a lot of lost sleep. Waking up early in the morning and sometimes, at times going to bed real late,” he said.

It is dedication that starts early each morning.

Chery said, “My alarm goes off about 4:30 in the morning because I live all the way out in Kingsport.”

He gets ready to pick up students by about 6:30 a.m..

“Sometimes in the morning, they don’t even want to talk. They don’t even want to be around anybody, but when you smile at them, even though you’re just as cranky as they are, it brings a great smile, and great joy to their face and I enjoy seeing that,” Chery said.

Chery drives various ages but said, if he could pick a preference he would pick teens.

“I just like to invest in them because I believe their the next future for this country and for our society,” he said.

He takes pride in the rapport that he has built with his students.

Chery said, “There’s a level of respect that I expect out of my students because I treat them with the same amount of respect.”

Osborne said this is also about keeping students safer.

“If you don’t have enough drivers the kids will have to walk further in elements,” Osborne said.

Those interested in become bus drivers are paid for training.

“We’ll take you from no license to a fully licensed driver in a month, maybe a month and a half,” Osborne said.

By the start of school, he hopes to have a new fleet.

Osborne said, “The safest place that kids can be on the road is in a school bus,”

You must be at least 25 years old to apply,    

Those who would like to join the team of school bus drivers can stop by the Johnson City Transit office at 137 West Market Street, in downtown Johnson City.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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