They Love Their Jobs, Hours, Students, Fellow Drivers
“The school bus has changed my life.”
“These kids have given me a new life.”
“We are like a family.”
“Being a Cobb County bus driver has been one of the best experiences of my life.”
“I love it!”
That’s how Cobb County School District bus drivers describe their jobs and their role in safely transporting 70,000-plus students to school and back home each day.
Those bus drivers now have an extra reason to smile as students step on their buses. During its August meeting, the Board of Education voted to approve a $5.25 per hour pay raise for Cobb bus drivers. That increase bumped up the starting rate for new drivers to $25 per hour, while veteran drivers’ pay ranges up to $33.32 an hour, depending on their salary step. This is the highest pay rate for school bus drivers in metro Atlanta.
The part-time job also is eligible for full-time benefits, including health, dental, vision, life and cancer insurance.
Bus drivers who have joined the Cobb Schools team come from a variety of backgrounds.
Many drivers, like Roy “Jack” Fullen, didn’t come from professional driving careers before signing on as a bus driver.
“I spent 42 years in the bank systems and software business, and we traveled around after retirement,” he said. “After that, retirement really settled in. I had all the honey-do projects completed, and I kind of missed the structure of having someplace to go every day.”
Spending time with his grandchildren at their bus stop, and talking to their bus driver, led Fullen to apply for a position with the school district’s transportation department.
“Of all the jobs I’ve had, it’s probably the most personally rewarding job I’ve ever had in that the kids are great,” he said. “You get a chance to get to know them a little bit — some better than others — and you feel at the end of the day that, in some way, you really can make a difference in their lives.”
For Fullen, one of the most significant aspects of being a bus driver is the relationships he builds with students. That’s exactly what he has been doing for six years at Acworth Elementary, Barber Middle and North Cobb High.
The job also supports his life of retirement and keeps him young.
“It adds a good deal of structure in my life, that youth that kind of evaporates when you retire,” he said. “I got up every morning for 42 years and had someplace to go and something to do, and this kind of fills that void. I enjoy that, and it gives me a sense of staying in touch and a sense of relevance that, at least for me, is very important.”
Before joining the Cobb Schools team two years ago, Jenny Martinez drove a school bus throughout the New York metropolitan area for 10 years.
Martinez told an inspiring story of how divine intervention led her to apply for a job as a bus driver. The honk of a school bus and a wave from the driver caught her attention when she was considering what job to pursue with young children at home. With the help of a neighbor, she applied and secured one of the few slots available for the training that would prepare her for her life-changing job as a school bus driver.
“That’s why I became a bus driver, because the Lord sent me over,” she said.
The competitive paid benefits available to Cobb’s bus drivers are not what motivates Martinez to buckle into the driver’s seat every day. She does it for the kids.
“My kids, I love to say good morning to them,” she said. “Every morning, we have a big smile, and I love when they come on the bus. They feel safe. They know I care for them, and I feel happy about that. Because every time you say good morning, they feel the love.”
Martinez, who transports students to and from Acworth and McCall elementaries, Barber Middle and North Cobb High, has her own advice for those considering a job as a bus driver.
“I would say to follow what is in your heart,” she said. “Come and do it because you love it, and you want to be with the kids. You want to treat the kids as if they’re yours.”