Job profile: School bus driver hauls ‘precious cargo’
Lake Superior School District bus driver Stephanie Potter has been behind the bus wheel for four years, but she wishes it was longer.
"I wish I would’ve started doing this years ago," Potter said. "I just enjoy seeing the kids every day. It's been great watching them grow."
Potter started the job after seeing an ad in the News-Chronicle about bus driver jobs. The school district is seeking more drivers like Potter. There is an urgent need for drivers for the geographically largest school district in Minnesota — bus drivers cover about 1,400 miles every day.
Potter applied for the bus driving job shortly after she lost her job when Pizza Hut closed.
"I decided that I wanted to try something different," Potter said. "When I saw the ad for drivers, I was very attracted to the hours and the flexibility of it. I thought it would work well around my other job.
"I know some people would say, ‘Aren't you afraid? Isn’t it a lot of responsibility with all of those children?'" Potter said. "But really, I take pride in knowing that these parents are putting their children on the bus with me and I will get them back home safely. I know kids are the most precious cargo."
Potter also works part time for the Lake County Humane Society. She spends two hours in the morning driving her regular route then heads to the animal shelter until she needs to go back for her afternoon route.
When Potter first applied for the bus driver job, she'd never driven anything larger than a pickup truck. After filling out an application, she had a background check, an interview, passed a school bus physical and drug test. After that, new bus driving applicants have to study the Commercial Drivers License handbook and learn all the rules before they take the written test.
"After that, it's like you're 16 and have your permit again," LSSD bus garage dispatcher Dennis Wagner said. "And we show you how to drive and get you ready for your road test."
Commercial driver’s license tests are offered every two weeks in Two Harbors and every day in Duluth.
"It was a little challenging to get my CDL, but I enjoyed the challenge," Potter said. "I really wanted to do it, so it’s all been worth it and I would do it all again."
Potter started out as a substitute driver, but found herself driving almost every day. There were many hours available to pick up. Last year, she bid for the regular route she now drives.
"It's a rural route, so I see a lot of wildlife on my trips into the woods," Potter said. "I also get to see the sunrise and sunset."
Potter also sometimes picks up shuttle drives, taking students on trips and to athletic events in various locations. While waiting during the events, Potter likes to read books, go for walks and watch football.
"I was never really a big football person, but I've started getting into it now. The students are so excited for the games and it makes you excited to watch them," Potter said.
For information about bus driver jobs with the school district, contact the district office at 218-834-8216.