Courtesy of:  Beth McDonough

There's a new push to keep as many trained bus drivers at the wheel as possible.
Toward the end of the school year is when at least 30-percent take other jobs to survive the summer months.

Some don't come back at all in the fall.

We're one of only three states in the country that don't give school bus drivers unemployment compensation over the summer.  That break in pay for two months, is driving an effort to change the law.

Five days a week, nine months out of the year, Ed Reynoso trusts a bus driver to take his son Adam to and from school safely.  Driver and Dad are on a first name basis.

It's the familiarity and experience he appreciates.  Every year, Reynoso worries he might not see his son's bus driver again in the fall.  That's why he's speak up, urging lawmakers to rethink unemployment compensation for all 10,000 drivers in the state, "sure as there is snow in the state of Minnesota we're certainly going to try to change the law."

Anoka County Veteran bus driver Bob Saba said, "We haul the most precious thing to people in the state of Minnesota, their kids and grandkids, and we're not given the credit that we're worthwhile."  

He dreads the same two months every summer:  July and August, because he's got zero dollars coming in, "It's tough, we've got to make our bills, the mortgage won't wait, they still want to get their money on time, have to put money away and make up the difference."

Recently, he's seen a number of trained drivers walk away from the so-called "seasonal" job here, for work in other industries with paychecks guaranteed year-round.

In fact, state records show the retention rate of bus drivers is only between 60-70%. 

State law recognizes drivers as independent contractors for private bus companies and therefore, aren't eligible for unemployment compensation. 

This session, lawmakers have received requests and petitions to reconsider, including Rep. Patrick Garofalo of Farmington.

"The first question is, how are we gonna pay for it, of course public safety is very important for school children but at the end of the day, money doesn't grow on trees, we gotta come up with a way to pay for this," said Garofalo.

On average, school bus drivers make $14-$17 per hour and collect health insurance benefits.

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Courtesy of:  Renee Tessman

FARMINGTON, Minn. - Bus drivers and aides on buses carry a responsibility.  Parents rely on them to keep their kids safe from home to school.

For the family of a three-year-old, who Friday, was forgotten on a school bus for four hours, the message is a serious one.  Elliott Johnson played a video game on a tablet Saturday, while sitting on his father's lap.

He spoke to his parents a little, but in general, Elliott doesn't say a lot. He has childhood apraxia, a speech disorder. His mother, Elizabeth Johnson said, "He doesn't speak well and he's very shy."

He's getting preschool help with his speech through Farmington Area Schools at the district's Instructional Service Center.

That's where he was headed Friday morning, around 8 a.m., when his mom Elizabeth Johnson put him on a school bus, with a bus driver and a bus aide on board.  She said, "He was in the front seat right behind the bus driver strapped

But Elliott never got to school.

Elizabeth said, "I was speechless I just couldn't believe it."  When Elliott didn't come home at noon, Elizabeth called the school.  They told her he was never there.  She called the bus service, Marschall Line, Inc. and a dispatcher found Elliott alone, still strapped in on that bus, at the bus terminal.

Elizabeth said, "For four hours I sat here thinking my son was at school. He's having fun, playing, learning.  And here he is sitting on a bus alone in the dark."

Elliott's dad, Jesse Johnson, said, "It's so heartbreaking.  Someone looses your kid and you have no clue where they are."

Jim Skelly is communications coordinator for Farmington Area Schools.  He said, "We're just very sorry that it did happen."  He continued, "There's procedures and policies in place to make sure that they don't happen, this kind of thing doesn't happen, and they just weren't followed."

Marschall Line, Inc., the bus company, issued a statement calling it a serious human error and said, "We offer our sincere apologies to the student and family involved." The statement also said, "Due to the serious breach of expectations, protocol and procedures related to student safety, both the bus driver and bus aide involved in the incident have been terminated."

The Johnsons are glad Elliott is safe but they want to send a message to all bus drivers and bus aides.  Elizabeth said, "Open their eyes.  Look through the seats.  Look under seats. Make sure their kids are not in the buses."

The Johnsons said they love Farmington schools and have never had any other problems with busing, so their older kids will continue to ride, but not Elliott. He told them he doesn't want to ride the bus anymore.

Elizabeth said the district offered to pay her mileage for transporting Elliott herself but she said she's not interested in the money.  They also offered to let Elliott talk to a school psychologist if she felt there was a need after this incident.

The bus company said it has an ongoing safety training program and will review procedures to avoid any other incidents.

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