School bus drivers go the distance

  • Tue May 20th, 2008 7:14pm
  • News

Joyce Nigretto

Special to the Sounder

It’s not unusual for grandparents to drive their grandchildren to school, but not many will drive them in a bus. Joyce Nigretto, Director of the Orcas Island School District Transportation Department, is in that unique situation. Nigretto has been driving buses for the OISD since 1976 and has had the opportunity to watch many of the island children as they grow and mature. That, she says, is her favorite part of her job.

The OISD transportation department employs three other bus drivers: Jodi Luft who drives the Deer Harbor run; Carl Colburn, Doe Bay; and Terri Savell, Eastsound. Nigretto drives the Orcas route. Drivers arrive for work at 6:50 a.m. when they pick up their buses at school and begin their two-hour morning shift. The afternoon shift leaves school at 3:15 p.m. every day but Wednesday, when the elementary school has an early dismissal. Each bus carries the full span of students from K-12.

There is a four-bus route in the morning when the buses are often full. In the afternoon there are only three buses running because many students remain in town for after-school activities. Bus drivers also do basic upkeep on their own buses, including washing them. Four buses have a 71-passenger capability and one bus can accommodate 48 passenge – a bus for every route plus a spare.

Fortunately for the district, Joyce Nigretto is a state trainer for school bus drivers. Each driver must have a CDL Class B endorsement, first aid endorsement, pass the driving test and go through mandatory yearly in-service review training.

Based on the state schedule and financial support for funding school buses, the OISD replaces the buses every 13 years. Two new buses were brought in last year and two more will be replaced within the next two years. The Anacortes school district takes care of any major maintenance projects.

The OISD transportation department also provides bus service for school field trips and athletic events. The drivers take turns driving for these activities. Providing bus transportation for local camps that are bringing school children in from other areas is also under the auspices of the transportation department, although the billing for this service goes through the OISD business office.

Joyce Nigretto is committed to seeing that things “go well and that everything works.” Safety is her first priority. She also does all the scheduling which includes field trips, athletic events, and use of the buses by off-island people when they arrive on Orcas. And, aside from getting to take her grandchildren to school in a bus, how many other school transportation directors get to work so closely with the Washington State Ferry system?