When a teacher can't make it to class, the school calls in a substitute. When a school bus driver can't make his or her appointed rounds, school districts do the same.
"They get 5 o'clock wakeup calls a lot, 4:30," said Lisa Spence, transportation director for the Warren Local school district.
"When you're a sub, you know that that goes along with the job," she said.
Substitute bus drivers are vital for Warren and other school districts to get children to school each day. But they're not always easy to find or keep.
"Getting enough qualified sub drivers is an issue at both Fort Frye and Warren," said Tom Gibbs, superintendent of both districts, in an email this week. "The challenge is that of getting good people with the appropriate CDL (commercial driver's license) who aren't already working full-time somewhere else."
Some substitute drivers in Washington County have driven buses elsewhere, while others are newcomers hoping to catch on when a regular position opens. Some work other jobs in the district as well.
At a glance
Requirements to be a school bus driver or substitute
At least 21 years old.
Satisfactory completion of a criminal background check.
Must be able to obtain a CDL, class B, with passenger and school bus endorsements.
Must attend Ohio Preservice Training.
Must pass a physical.
Complete a pre-employment drug test; subject to random drug testing throughout the year.
Source: Times research.
Belpre City Schools: Aug. 22.
Caldwell Exempted Village School District: Aug. 22.
Fort Frye Local Schools: Aug. 16.
Frontier Local Schools: Aug. 22.
Marietta City Schools: Aug. 23.
Noble Local School District: Sept. 4.
Switzerland of Ohio Local School District: Aug. 27.
Warren Local School District: Aug. 28.
Washington County Career Center: Aug. 22, first day of school for first-year students; Aug 23, first day of school for all returning students.
Williamstown schools: Aug. 23.
Wolf Creek Local School District: Aug. 22.
Warren has 21 regular bus drivers and five regular substitutes, Spence said. She also has five other individuals she can call on in a pinch, including a district custodian.
The number of regular bus drivers would increase - and the sub list would likely shrink - if district voters in November approve a 3.45-mill bond issue to build a new high school and a 5-mill permanent improvement levy to fund repairs to existing buildings. Warren board of education members have said that would free up enough money to reinstate high school busing, eliminated last year along with other funding cuts to divert money to building repairs.
"I think we'll be able to get full-time drivers in a reasonable period of time, but it will likely completely wipe out our list of sub drivers," Gibbs said.
Belpre Township resident Randy Church, 58, is a district substitute driver who would like to land a regular job if the district adds drivers.
Church was a bus driver in the Belpre City school district for two years, but took a different job and also signed on as a substitute at Warren three years ago.
"I enjoy driving, and I enjoy kids," he said. "I want to become a permanent driver."
Church said he felt Warren's longer routes and other factors made it a better fit for him.
Those routes can be daunting to a new sub, Spence said, but after three years, Church is pretty familiar with the terrain. He also gets assistance from student helpers, usually one of the first children on the bus in the morning and one of the last off in the evening.
Church said just like in the classroom, students on the bus will occasionally try to get away with something with a substitute they never would with the regular driver. He said when that happens he lets them know he won't tolerate it, but does so without raising his voice.
"I'm not a yeller," he said.
Spence said substitutes can have advance notice when a driver is taking children on a trip or going on vacation and needs someone to fill in on his or her regular route. But they can also get those last-minute, early morning calls when a driver calls in sick.
Church said most of the substitutes in the district live within 10 miles of the bus garage in Vincent, and often they get an hour's notice before they have to be there.
"Usually that's more than enough time for all of us to get here," he said.
Sometimes five subs aren't enough to cover the needs, which is when Spence tries to press others into service.
"We always get it done somehow," she said.
Substitute drivers can be hard to come by, because the hours are early but not regular and the pay is often less than that for regular drivers. Pay ranges from $9 an hour in Warren to $11.01 an hour in Belpre. Frontier Local pays its subs $20 a trip.
Getting certified can also be a hurdle.
"It can be very costly for a new sub to get their license," Spence said.
She estimated the cost at about $260 over a three-month period. Expenses include a pre-service class, a background check, the test and the CDL itself.
Warren doesn't pay prospective drivers for their training time, but the district does have its own instructor.
Other districts, including Frontier Local and Marietta City, do cover training costs.
Marietta has 20 regular drivers but only three or four subs currently, Superintendent Harry Fleming said, although he added he expects a few more to join the ranks soon.
Frontier has approximately 10 substitutes, including some who work in the district in other capacities, Treasurer Frank Antill said.
Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder said the district may be struggling to find regular drivers soon because the latest contract negotiated with the district's Ohio Association of Public School Employees chapter eliminated full family insurance coverage for bus drivers, something Warren still offers. Belpre's level of insurance coverage is based on the amount of hours the employee works.
"Obviously bus drivers are on average (working) four hours a day," Kidder said. "There's not too many 20-hour-a-week jobs out there that are offered full-family insurance."
Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn said substitute drivers generally are hard to find but his district has been fortunate to have a core group for the last couple of years. The $11.01 hourly rate is the same as the starting pay for regular drivers, but Dunn said the district does not offer incentives like paying for training.
"I guess the big incentive is we might hire you as a full-time bus driver," he said.