Make the McKenzie Connection!

Will McKenzie import bus drivers?

School board asked for recruitment and retention

FINN ROCK: Transportation issues and how they impact education were at the core of public testimony at last Wednesday’s meeting of the McKenzie School Board. Six employees and community members all said they fear the end of an era may be in the offing if a decision is made to charter outside services.

In a May 2022 posting the district was offering a $1,200 sign-on hiring bonus for new bus drivers who could earn up to $21 per hour driving daily morning and after school routes. The ad went on to note they could generally expect to drive Monday through Friday, averaging about 16 hours per week.

Hiring and retaining bus drivers is a problem regionally and nationally, bus driver Mark Dean told the board, despite an average salary of $32 to $37 per hour in Springfield. He questioned why the board refused to place the hiring and retention of drivers on their agenda, after being told the matter should be limited to collective bargaining discussions.

“This is not a wage issue,” Dean said. “I’d love to stay and just wish you could bring us to parity. My son is making more at a food cart.”

Others feared what could happen if the district decided to hire outside the local community. Dave Sanders, who has two children enrolled at McKenzie, said he “can’t emphasize enough how important it is. I appreciate the time they (bus drivers) spend with kids and communicate with me and my wife when they drop kids off. That kind of connection is priceless,” he said.

Bus driver John Phelps, who has worked for both the McKenzie and Springfield school districts, was concerned that in both areas, bus drivers aren’t valued. He told the board that “you and the teachers can’t do their jobs - nobody can do their jobs unless the students get to this facility.”

Phelps stressed the value of knowing an area’s residents if people live here. “If you get a guy outside of the community coming here he doesn’t know we have brittle on Tuesdays or the special things we learn to connect with the kids.”

Ernie Bates, shared the same feelings, saying since coming here in 2013 he’d enjoyed interacting with the bids who rode his bus and watched them grow up “all the way through graduation.” He felt it was critical that the district support its transportation department and worried that things like the after-school activity bus would be “very difficult for someone from Eugene to come up here for.”

Board chair Elaine Bryson thanked people for their input and asked superintendent Lane Tompkins to put together a countywide spreadsheet of bus drivers and other classified positions prior to a collective bargaining session planned for next month.


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