Tim Miller has been driving buses for the Portland School Department since 2011. He said he enjoys being the first point of contact for students each day. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — School bus drivers do more than just deliver kids safely to and from school – they’re often the first point of contact for students each day.

The Transportation Department for the Portland schools is getting the fleet ready for the start of school Sept. 3. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

That’s one reason Tim Miller said he enjoys his job so much.

“We get to set the tone for the school day,” Miller said. “And I like to help students start their day off right.”

As one way of showing it values its bus drivers and appreciates what they do to ensure that students arrive at school safely and on time, the School Department is holding a free bowling event for transportation staff at Bayside Bowl this week.

Miller has been driving a bus for Portland Public Schools since graduating from Southern New Hampshire University in 2011.

While at SNHU he studied sports management, but after initially taking a job as a school bus driver, he never looked back. Miller said the Transportation Department for the schools provides “a great working environment. We have each other’s backs and people are always ready to step up and help.”

Miller is a full-time school bus driver and also coaches the junior varsity boys basketball team at Deering High School. He said the work schedule allows him time to follow his other passions, including coaching, and overall “I just really like working with kids.”

During the last school year, Miller drove Bus 94, a route that took him to both Presumpscot Elementary and Lyman Moore Middle School. This coming academic year he will drive a bus designed for special needs students. It has a wheelchair lift and there will be an assistant on the bus, as well.

Miller said the School Department offers a lot of training, from safety to the rules of the road, but a lot of emphasis is also put on building a rapport with students and being someone they can rely on day-to-day.

Tim Miller likes the schedule of being a full-time bus driver because it allows him to pursue other interests, like coaching basketball. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

With school districts across Maine and nationally facing bus driver shortages,  Portland schools have been trying to find ways to make working for the district more attractive by increasing hours and providing growth opportunities, the press release said.

Another way is by partnering with Bayside Bowl, at 58 Alder St., which will set aside six lanes and provide shoes, all for free, to approximately 50 Transportation Department employees on Thursday, Aug. 29.

Transportation Director Eric Wood said this week that all but a few of the bus drivers are full-time and over 50 percent work year-round. The salary ranges from $18-$23 per hour and Wood said there are two positions open. Drivers need a Class B license, but Wood said the School Department offers assistance with training, including earning the necessary driver’s license.

He said what makes the Transportation Department a great place to work are the benefits offered, building relationships with kids, being a part of the school team and “being out on the road, rather than behind a desk.” He said over half the staff has been with the district for more than 10 years.

In addition to trying to attract and retain bus drivers, the School Department has strived to make it clear that “our school bus drivers and other transportation staff are a vital part of our team,” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said

Botana also commended Wood for being the point person for the bowling event.

“This is a great example of the team building that Eric is working on in our Transportation Department,” he said. “We are most grateful to Bayside Bowl for its willingness to support this work and to the Foundation for Portland Public Schools for helping make this event possible.”

Wood said the afternoon of bowling will be a fun way for transportation staff to build rapport as they prepare for the start of the new school year. Students in grades 1-12 start school on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten start classes on Sept. 5.

His hope for the event is that the transportation staff understands that they’re valued and that they’re “being recognized for the great work that they do. They provide a service that greatly impacts students.”

Miller said “it’s a great opportunity to build teamwork and camaraderie. It will also put us in a good state of mind and get us excited about the start of school.”

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