Behind The Scenes
A Day in the Life of An Avon Bus Driver
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Mikey Rawlinson began working as a substitute custodian in 1981 before moving into maintenance. A few years later he became the Director of Maintenance for the Avon Community School Corporation and did that for the next three decades. Five years ago, he inherited transportation as well and is now Avon’s Director of Transportation and Maintenance.
When Rawlinson first started, Avon’s transportation department had a total of 17 buses. Today, that number has grown to 130, transporting an average of 7,500 students daily.
Every morning all bus drivers report to work 20 minutes prior to departure for their pre-trip inspection where they check that lights, brakes, turn signals, stop arms, emergency doors and other safety features are working properly. During the winter, they also have to leave time to scrape snow and ice off of windshields.
For the most part, a driver is assigned the same morning and afternoon routes so that students can get to know their drivers and vice versa. This is key especially for those children who have a rough home life or even just had a difficult day at school.
“There are occasions where the best part of a student’s day is getting on that bus and interacting with their driver,” Rawlinson says. “The drivers love checking in with their students — ‘Oh, you got a haircut!’ or ‘Where did you get those shoes?’ Just simple things that let the children know they’re important.”
The Avon Community School Corporation has more than 100 drivers, both for general education and special needs, who receive extra training. In addition, in November all Avon bus drivers will receive CPR training thanks to funding from the Avon Education Foundation (AEF).
“We’re thankful to AEF for funding this vital training resource,” says Rawlinson, noting that though the public may think bus driving is simply picking up and dropping off students, it’s really much more complicated than that.
“If you were to dissect the transportation department, you would find that almost every area is very precise,” Rawlinson says.
When he arrives at work at 5:45 a.m., the morning dispatcher is already there, juggling next steps when drivers call in sick.
Given that it’s impossible for one person to interact with 100-plus drivers a day, the corporation hires five savvy and experienced lead drivers, each of whom oversees 25 drivers.
Then there are routers whose job it is to create the 400-plus routes that run each day. These routers not only assign groups of students to specific buses in the most efficient way possible but they also direct the bus drivers in how they run that route. For instance, they always try picking up students on the door side of the bus so that children aren’t crossing county roads.
According to Rawlinson, Avon buses log more than a million miles a year. In addition to their daily routes, they do 2,000-plus field trips and extracurricular activities annually. Trying to organize all of that is no easy task, especially since a lot of things get assigned in the eleventh hour.
“The folks in our office are tremendous,” Rawlinson says. “I don’t know of a time that we’ve not been able to find a driver for a last-minute trip.”
In addition, in the 38 years he’s been employed by Avon, Rawlinson has never seen a day where they’ve closed school because they couldn’t get buses out.
“It’s a testament not only to our transportation and maintenance crew but also to our custodial team who clear sidewalks as all of the snow plowing around the schools is done in-house with our own trucks,” Rawlinson says.
In the winter, when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, the head mechanic comes in to ensure buses are properly warmed up. Rawlinson and the superintendent drive the county roads to be sure they’re safe. After receiving the road report, the superintendent has a conference call with other superintendents in the area to make a call regarding closures.
“There’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff most people aren’t unaware of,” says Rawlinson, who maintains that the reason the whole operation runs so smoothly boils down to tremendous employees — everyone from drivers to aids to routers to payroll personnel.
When it comes to a school bus driver’s greatest challenge, roundabouts likely top the list. That’s partly because many people don’t know that it’s both dangerous and illegal to pass a bus in a roundabout. Then there are the impatient drivers who try to get around a bus when the stop arm is extended.
“I’ve seen people who have passed buses on the right. I’ve seen drivers jump the curb and go through a yard,” Rawlinson says. “We’ve also had accidents where students on the bus see that the reason a car hit the bus is because the driver was texting.”
It’s also good for folks to be cognizant of the fact that a school bus is 40 feet long. There’s 8 feet to the bus behind the rear axle so when that turns, the part of that bus that’s behind the axle swings into the adjacent lane. Bottom line: exercise patience and give buses space.
Think about how difficult it is to concentrate in your own car with just a handful of passengers. What if you had 78 kids in your backseat? To navigate a large vehicle, pay attention to the road, be a defensive driver and still act as an authority figure to your students is multitasking at its best.
“On a school bus, the driver has the same authority as a teacher in a classroom,” Rawlinson says. “The difference between a school bus and a classroom is that you have twice the students and they’re all behind you.”
Though bus drivers don’t have eyes in the back of their heads, every bus is equipped with cameras, which helps minimize behavior issues, including roughhousing and bullying. The buses have been equipped with VHS tapes for years, but today’s digital videos are crystal clear.
Bus drivers remind students that they’re being recorded.
“It’s a great deterrent in reducing problems like throwing bottles or hurling things out a window,” Rawlinson says. “I don’t think every driver tries to subdue horseplay as long as it’s fun.”
Cameras also come in handy when the department gets a call from a parent, relaying a story of something that their child told them happened on the bus. The department reviews footage to determine the story’s accuracy.
“These cameras offer protection for the parent, the student and the driver because cameras tell the truth every time,” says Rawlinson, who likens the transportation office to the old television show “Taxi.”
“Our folks are so talented and make it look so easy as they organize everything,” Rawlinson says. “But if you could be a fly on the wall here between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., you’d be amazed how it all comes together.”