Ottawa Director of Transportation Steve Stohr intimately knows the difficulty and struggles of a school bus driver. That’s how he got his start in the district. As a thirteen-year veteran of Ottawa’s school transportation network, Steve worked his way from substitute to route driver to Director of Transportation, learning what it takes to be a driver from the ground up.
Driven to Serve
In total, Steve drove for five years before accepting his current position. He is now responsible for finding, selecting, and hiring all district drivers, proactively managing their driver’s training and compliance, and ensuring all proactive vehicle maintenance schedules are followed. He manages thirty-two-plus routes across five schools and in-house maintenance staff responsible for ninety percent of necessary maintenance and repairs. Steve shares that having an in-house maintenance shop is a luxury that allows him to schedule repairs and get buses back on the road in a fraction of the time of most school districts.
Steve admits that while earning a slot on the school transportation team used to be sought after, staffing open positions has become far more challenging. “It’s hard to find drivers right now. We’re always looking for somebody that wants to do it,” shares Steve. While Steve is optimistic that application volume is slowly ticking up, he’s always recruiting quality drivers.
Steve shares that driving a bus is an excellent position for the right person. “There are certain things it’s good for. If you have kids in school, your schedules are going to match. When they’re off on Christmas break, you’re off on Christmas break. I try to sell that to people, especially if they have kids in the district.”
Besides day-to-day routes, Steve also manages the district’s athletic transportation schedule, transporting children to and from countless sporting events. Steve suggests that if you like football or basketball and want to attend the out-of-town games, why not drive the kids and put a couple hundred bucks in your pocket by doing so? He laughs as he shares that he’s typically got an employee in the stands, getting paid twenty-three dollars an hour to eat a hot dog and watch the game. “And we’re supporting the community. It’s a pretty nice gig,” shares Steve with a smile.
For years, Steve has owned and operated The Tax Stohr. A successful small business owner, Steve provides tax and accounting services to the community, pausing to let me know that his office is located just down the street from the Kroger grocery store. Most of Steve’s work is seasonal, and even during tax season, most of the work is done on nights and weekends. When he started driving, he considered filling in on open routes a perfect way to get out of the office and make some extra money.
Steve currently manages about nine-hundred clients a year. While he says it can sometimes get busy, the school bus schedule provided the perfect environment for him to maintain a day job while also working as an entrepreneur. He grins as he asks me how many part-time jobs come with steady, dependable hours, a pension, and paid sick days.
Ultimately, it’s the countless interactions with the students he’d miss if he were to stop working for the school district. “I’ll see high school kids now that I haven’t seen in years. They’ll look at me funny and ask how I know them, and I’ll say I was your bus driver back in preschool, and they’ll ask, ‘Really?’” Steve shares with a quick chuckle.
He adds, “It’s cool to see these kids grow up. I have drivers who have driven long enough that they’ll drive the kids of kids they used to drive, a couple of generations deep.” Steve pauses, adding, “They go back three generations in a few situations. I even have a bus driver who can say, ‘Hey, I drove your grandma to school.’ Now that’s something special.”