When Bob Mueller gets up in the morning, he looks forward to the challenge of busing children to school from Tampa and coordinating travel schedules for students and staff as Centre transportation director.
“The bus driver job is probably not for everybody,” he said. “We hear a lot about distracted driving these days, and bus driving may be the ultimate, with distractions all around. You have to develop the skill to eye everything, inside and out.”
He said deer, cattle, machinery, and blind intersections are some of the things bus drivers encounter while at the same time working to maintain order in a closed environment.
John Mulvenon is a bus driver with 18 years experience in the Marion school district and with Marion County Special Education. He runs the Florence elementary route right now.
He said he tries to make riding the bus a positive experience.
“I try to put a smile on their face when they get on in the morning if they don’t have one,” he said. “I want to be their friend, but they need to know that I also am the boss. My job is to get them to school safely.”
“You have to be able to develop a rapport with the kids, but you also have to be strict,” he said. “My job isn’t to be liked. What I want is respect.”
He drove bus as a young man in the early 1970s while teaching industrial arts at Effingham. He said some students’ attitudes have changed from years ago.
“They used to just be ornery, but now some are angry,” he said.
Both drivers use various strategies to stop disturbances.
Mulvenon travels US-77 to and from Florence. He said it’s difficult to find a safe place to stop when he needs to address a situation inside the bus. Passers-by don’t always understand.
He has a whistle with a shrill sound, and when he picks it up, the children know what’s coming and stop fighting, he said. Other times, he throws his hat on the floor to get their attention.
“Sometimes they think I’m yelling, but I’m just speaking above the noise of the bus,” he said.
He encourages students to read while riding.
“Nobody ever got in trouble while reading a book,” he said.
Mueller said he threatens to call the cops, and that usually is enough to settle them down, although the cops do come if a weapon, such as a knife, is discovered.
Mueller has seen the Centre bus system reduced from six routes to four. He said most students reside in towns now, whereas years ago there might be as many as four country stops per mile.
Sometimes they are rewarded with gifts from the children, such as personal notes, gift certificates, coffee mugs, even a box of donuts. Mulvenon once got an appreciation letter from a mother.
Both men find satisfaction in being part of a school system.
“Driving a bus is a chance to have a small amount of influence in kids’ lives,” Mulvenon said.
“This has been a good job,” Mueller said. “I’ve always been interested in education, and I’m providing a service.”
He was a school board member for several years.
“Some days it’s hard,” the 65-year-old Mulvenon admitted. “Some days it’s not hard. I get to go out in the morning and see the sunrise. I have been a paraprofessional, a farmhand, and construction worker, and this has been my most rewarding job. I would love to retire, but this is fun. I would be lost without this job for the next couple of years. It’s been a good experience.”
Gov. Sam Brownback has issued a proclamation making today “School Bus Drivers’ Appreciation Day.”