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Former RCSD bus driver may come out of retirement, but still has COVID concerns

school-bus-1527162.jpg Meyer

Until his retirement in late August, Wilbert Naveda worked as a school bus driver in the Rochester City school district for over 30 years.

"In 1990, we had 100 drivers," he said.

Now, in the midst of the district's transportation crisis, unionized bus drivers total 47. Naveda is one of 23 who retired over the past three years, according to Dan DiClemente, president of BENTE local 2419, which represents bus drivers and other non-teaching employees.

Until its most recent contract was settled in August, starting pay for drivers was $18.56 per hour.

"For the responsibility drivers had, people didn't think that was enough for the risk," Naveda said.

Drivers who sign on with the district now can earn an hourly wage between $20.53 to $22.43, based upon years of experience.

But the job is not full-time for all drivers. Most work 30 hours a week, 9 months out of the year and are unable to collect unemployment during those off-months.

Naveda, who is 62, was one of the senior drivers in the district after three decades. He said he was ready to retire to spend more time with his three children and six grandchildren.

But concerns about COVID-19 also weighed heavily in his decision.  He became infected with the virus in March, 2020.

"Right after they closed the schools down, two or three days later, I (tested) positive," he said. "A week in the hospital. I can say I was one of the lucky ones, because not everyone comes out."

Naveda will probably never know for sure where and how he was exposed to the coronavirus, but he said bus drivers are concerned about the risk, because it's not possible to space out students on a 30 or 60 seat bus.

Students under 12 are not currently eligible to be vaccinated. "And it's hard to keep a kid's mask on," Naveda added. "You know how they are. They put them on, they take them off."

Nevertheless, Naveda said he and other former drivers he knows are considering coming out of retirement for a month or two to help the district through the shortage.

"I feel like I should have stayed a little longer," he said. "The kids need transportation and that's the main reason we should be there. For the kids."

While he is appreciative of the gesture, DiClemente said pulling drivers out of retirement is not a long-term solution to the shortage.

He said some recent applicants for the jobs still have to obtain their commercial driver's license and that takes time.

In order to remain competitive with other school districts, DiClemente said RCSD needs to offer incentives, such as recruitment and retention bonuses, which he called "the norm" right now.

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear excerpts from an interview with retired bus driver Wilbert Naveda.