Clay Community Schools has one large bus/maintanence building on Depot Street. When not in service, the building houses close to 75 buses.
"We have 85 drivers, full-time and part-time," Director of Transportation Frank Misner said. "Many of our drivers retire, and then sign up to drive as a substitute."
The drivers in charge of Clay County's children have 57 full-time routes, and most have been driving area routes for at least 12 years.
"We try to make sure our drivers are qualified," Misner said. "They must attend a three-day class, pass a skills test and attend yearly safety meetings. They also need to have a CDL license with a S endorsement for school buses."
Of course, safety is paramount for a school bus driver, and more than 75 percent of Clay Community drivers are CPR certified.
These drivers are also seasoned, with the average age of 55 years, and surprisingly, are predominately women.
The buses are checked every 2,500 miles, and get a half-service grease job. They are inspected annually, in fact, inspection is this week. Drivers are responsible for the interior cleaning and maintenance of the buses.
School bus drivers aren't strangers to issues and concerns of safety, they are professionals at handling those concerns.
"We've had incidents of fighting, bullying, sexual harassment and drug and alcohol abuse on the bus," Misner said. "The drivers see and hear it all."
"Kids will tell a bus driver things they wouldn't tell anyone else," bus driver Wilbur Stearley said. "You know more about the kids life and family life than you really want to know."
Stearley has been a driver for Clay Community for 12 years. He's had to deal with many situations that would upset most people.
"There are times when knowing what I do about a child's home life, I really hate having to drop them off at home," Stearley said. "Sometimes, it breaks your heart."
"I feel really good that the kids like and trust the drivers so much," Misner said. "They may be the only adult that kids will talk to, and sometimes, we can help."
The help Misner refers to, is contacting local authorities in cases of abuse, or beatings, or the principal in case of problems with other students.
It isn't all doom and gloom though, many times, the students make the driver's day by sharing something or telling jokes.
"I remember we had a set of twins, a boy and girl, who were always very dressed up," Misner said. "One day, they got on the bus and the girl was behind the boy. She said to the driver, 'I'm wearing my brothers underwear today.' That kind of thing happens all the time."
When bad weather strikes the area, Misner is prepared.
"We have our own weather system, and I don't like to brag, but I can do almost as much as Kevin Orput with our system," Misner said. "Director of Buildings and Grounds Tom Reberger and I assess the weather patterns, how much it'll affect the sidewalks, streets, and driveways, and then advise the superintendent if we feel we should not open, or close early. He makes the ultimate decision."
Is he concerned about his drivers being out in poor conditions?
"Not really," Misner said. "I'm more concerned with the 16-year-old who just got his license. We want all the kids to be safe."
Most children spend less than 30 minutes on the bus. The rules are the same as at school, no eating or drinking, no cell-phones, no creatures on the bus, or skateboards and skate shoes.
"The drivers take care to have your kids arrive home safely and on time," Misner said.
"If there was any area to be concerned about the drivers, it would be that kids miss the bus. As parents, the best thing you can do for your child is have them ready and waiting at the bus stop when the bus arrives. That includes the first day of school."
Misner said that the biggest problem drivers encounter during the first week of school is that parents take their children to school in the morning, and kids don't know where to get on the bus or which bus to get on. This also causes confusion for the driver, who didn't pick your child up, and doesn't know where to let the child off.
Misner added one last item worth mentioning.
"When you see a bus with flashing red lights that isn't the signal to speed up, or pass the bus," he said. "It's the signal to stop, and that means cars approaching in both directions. Let's all work together to keep our kids safe."
If anyone has questions about the bus routes, or bus safety, call Misner, 442-7121.