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Creative solution to bus driver shortage fills seats in Florence 1 Schools

FLORENCE, SC – When Florence 1 Schools returned to in-person instruction in January, six employees
clocked in earlier than normal, beginning their run as a district bus driver. In November, the district gave
employees the option of running bus routes on top of their current position to help fill the driver gap the
district is facing. Employees who took the district up on that offer received a $2,000 new driver sign-on
bonus as well as a daily salary supplement.

Aundres Perkins will be driving for West Florence

These six employees either already had their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) or completed the
necessary training in order to get their CDL and endorsements to work as a bus driver. Before their first
run, the new drivers met with the interim Transportation Director Mitchell Washington and did dry runs
on their routes; these employees will keep their bus as their school during the day.

Florence 1 Schools Chief Personnel Officer Nathaniel C. Marshall said that the district is always focused
on providing a quality educational experience for students and for many students that means providing
transportation.

“By providing this opportunity to our staff, I believe we are continuing to show Florence 1 Schools’
commitment to being innovative to meet and overcome any challenges we face in supporting all of our
students,” Marshall said. “We are extremely appreciative of these staff members who have stepped up to
offer their service and skills to help our transportation department ensure all students get to and from
school on time. Along with these six, two more will begin next week. The district is pleased with the
continued interest our staff has shown in this opportunity.”  

Southside Middle School English teacher Robin Voss is driving for Southside. She said that she got her
CDL a few years ago when a district principal needed someone to drive students to athletic events.

“I always like learning new things, so I volunteered,” Voss said. “It was a week of classwork and then a
test. You have to pass four tests at the DMV, log several hours of driving with a mentor, and then yet
another test, including a 68-point inspection on the bus. Oddly, I can't back a trailer, but I can parallel
park a bus.”

Voss said that as a former high school and college athlete herself, driving student athletes sounded like a
great way to form connections with students outside of the classroom.

“I thought driving teams to games and being able to watch the games would not only be interesting, but
would let me see a different side of students,” Voss said. “The classroom student is far different from the
athletic student. The pressure of grades is removed and there's just the fun of playing the sport. For me,
its also quiet time because while they're warming up, I work on lesson plans, or I have my Kindle and I read or take walks for some exercise.”


Having mostly driven for Wilson and Williams athletes, Voss said she will enjoy the opportunity to
drive students from her school.
 
“This will give me the opportunity to get to know my own students at Southside in a different way,”
Voss said. “Seeing where the students live can be eye-opening and gives me another perspective to
reach them in the classroom. I'm looking forward to my routes! They won't interfere with my teaching
responsibilities at all -- I'll just have to get up a little earlier.” 

Scott Szalwinski, an Electrical Instructor at the Florence Career Center, said that he already had his CDL
and had driven before so when the opportunity came up, he was happy to step into the role.

“My principal was very supportive and it doesn't add that much to my schedule,” Szalwinski said. “I've
done it before and really enjoy it. (Our) students and families are what makes serving with F1S the best
place to be.”

Interim Transportation Director Mitchell Washington said having these employees working as bus
drivers has been a great help to the district.

“I am excited to have several of Florence Ones' teachers and staff members helping out in the
transportation department,” Washington said. “This has been a tremendous aide in getting our students
to and from school in a timely manner. Utilizing them has been extremely helpful, especially during this
difficult time. They have alleviated in areas where bus drivers have been doubling and tripling routes.
This has also helped us in areas where we have experienced overloading due to the state’s recommended
capacity limits.”

Aundres Perkins, a Career Specialist, will be driving for West Florence where he works. Perkins said
that he loves working with students so driving the bus is just another opportunity for him to do that.

“I enjoy interacting with F1S students so I’m excited for the opportunity to get to meet kids that might
not be what I’m used to working with, which is high school,” Perkins said. “Any opportunity to
positively impact our kids, through counseling, coaching or driving their bus, is a great opportunity for
me. Plus, they keep me young!”

Perkins said the process to get a CDL was similar to a regular driver’s license: study, practice and take
the test. Having his CDL now, Perkins said he will also be able to transport athletes to their games.

“I wanted to help my football and softball team and other group’s travel budget by driving for them,”
Perkins said. “I try to attend and support all academic and extracurricular activities so this was an easy
decision for me. It is a way to support and give back at the same time.”