Linn-Mar Community School District bus driver Rob Taylor closed the emergency door on Monday after following the last student in the back of the bus during an evacuation drill at Linn-Mar Middle School. Boulder Creek at Marion. This is Taylor’s seventh school year as a bus driver. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
MARION — Rob Taylor traded his Linn County sheriff’s deputy badge six years ago after retiring for the keys to a Linn-Mar school bus.
Today, he drives students to and from Boulder Peak Intermediate and Wilkins Elementary every day starting at 7 a.m., making sure they feel safe.
“I have a heart for young people,” said Taylor, who was also a school resource officer for the county. “They are our future. I want to set a good example and be a trusted adult.
The district — like many in Iowa and across the country — needs more school bus drivers, custodians, and other support staff in the Nutrition Services Department and support associates. to students, who work with students individually or as an aide in the classroom.
A career fair is being hosted by the district from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Wednesday at the Learning Resource Center, 2999 N. 10th St., Marion.
There are three openings – plus alternate options – in the district’s nearly 80-person nutrition services department; five openings in the transport service for 70 people, including bus drivers and replacements; 18 open paraeducator positions and replacement opportunities; and two guards needed in the service of nearly 60 people.
The starting salaries are:
- $21.50 per hour for bus drivers, plus paid training and up to $500 sign-up bonus;
- $18.88 per hour for janitors, plus full-time benefits and paid vacations and holidays;
- $14.15 nutrition services per hour, which includes paid time off;
- And $14 to $15 per hour for student support associates, including full-time benefits and paid time off.
“Even on our best day, any transportation service will tell you that there isn’t an overabundance of people,” said Brian Cruise, transportation director for the Linn-Mar Community School District. Approximately 3,800 students are transported to and from Linn-Mar schools and after-school events each weekday.
The last “normal year” was the 2018-19 school year before the pandemic, Cruise said. Since then, it has been even more difficult to find employees with fewer people willing to risk being exposed to COVID-19 and industries competing for workers.
Cruise said working in the transportation department is a great part-time job that’s flexible and doesn’t require nights, weekends or holidays. Bus drivers come from “all walks of life,” Cruise said, including former engineers, police officers and factory managers.
“I hear all the time that the job quickly becomes a lot more meaningful than that extra income or for some reason they took the job,” Cruise said. “People from a variety of professional backgrounds will tell you it’s the best job they’ve had. The children they carry and being able to interact with them is a reward.
Drivers may choose to take extra shifts to transport students to extracurricular activities like sports games and music competitions. Driver Rob Taylor says he especially enjoys going to volleyball, tennis, softball and baseball games.
Laura Whitson has been a Student Support Associate for 20 years and now works at Novak Elementary School. Whitson pursued that career for the same reason Taylor is a bus driver — because it’s rewarding, she said.
“It’s one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have,” Whitson said, adding that it’s worth it when you see a kid reach that “ah-ah” moment after struggling with something.
“That’s what makes my day, knowing that I made a difference,” Whitson said. “When we are understaffed, it’s the children who don’t get help.”
To anyone considering applying to become a student support associate, Whitson said they need to love children and have patience.
“This job isn’t for everyone, but ultimately you can make a difference in a child’s life. There is nothing more rewarding.
What: Linn-Mar Community School District Career Fair
When: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Learning Resource Center, 2999 N. 10th St., Marion.
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