POCATELLO — When Roy Allen was honored by the school district with the award for Special Education School Bus Driver of the Year, he didn’t even know such an award existed.
At the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 Board meeting on September 19, he was recognized for his years of dedicated service to the district.
Allen began driving school buses after he retired from a 20-year career serving his community as a Pocatello firefighter and paramedic. Now 69, Allen has been driving for the district for nearly a decade.
As a retiree, Allen was enjoying the projects he was able to get done with his new-found time, but he still felt like he needed to provide service.
“After I had retired, I wanted to find something valuable to do for my community,” Allen said.
Allen was friends with a school bus driver for the district, and she told him about her profession.
“She explained to me how difficult it was for the district to get reliable drivers,” he said. “And so she asked me if I would consider it, and I did.”
He went through the hiring process with a background check. Then, he took the district’s training and certification program. The district made it accessible for him to become a bus driver, paying him while he was becoming certified and training him well.
“You don’t pay anything, and the district hires you after they do the training process,” Allen said. “And the district takes it from there.”
Once Allen began driving school buses, he started as a substitute driver.
“One of the advantages of being a substitute is you can pick the days and hours that you want to work,” Allen said. “So it’s a very flexible job.”
Allen subbed for five years. During that time, he became certified to drive for students with special needs. Sometimes, he would fill in driving for the special needs busses.
“I just realized that it was something I’d want to do,” Allen said.
He would pick up special needs bus routes whenever they became available, but those routes had committed drivers who locked those routes up, “by those who really wanted to do that job. They stay in the position.”
That was, until 2020 when the pandemic changed how everything worked, including driving school buses. In a short amount of time, there were few routes for substitute bus drivers. At the same time, positions opened up for special needs bus drivers.
Allen said the district supported the drivers in protecting themselves from the pandemic, so he felt safe to continue to drive.
“That created opportunities to continue to work here,” Allen said. “And I’ve continued to work ever since.”
Allen hopes more people take up the opportunity to become bus drivers.
“The district really needs bus drivers, and we’re short-handed and we’re training constantly,” he said.
During training, people get paid minimum wage; however, once they’re driving routes, the pay goes up to around $15 to $16 per hour. Allen said he has a good retirement through the state of Idaho, and he wouldn’t be driving a school bus if he didn’t like the job.
“The children need and the district needs reliable drivers, and I find my fulfillment in coming to work, doing a good job,” Allen said. “The kids get to know you. They get to know you by your first name and you get to know them, and it’s really a positive feeling for me to have a relationship with the kids as they get to know me and trust me as a driver.”