District bus driver closes door on job

By Aaron Dutton       

A young girl waits at the end of her driveway as a large yellow school bus travels down a rough county road to meet her. The lights on top of the bus flash bright yellow as it approaches and then switch to red as it stops. The large door pushes outward and opens as she is greeted with a smile from an old familiar face that will soon retire from the district.

  Re-5J school bus driver, David Weich, proudly stands by his bus that he has driven for five years.
Re-5J school bus driver, David Weich, proudly stands by his bus that he has driven for five years. Photo by Aaron Dutton

            The Re-5J school board recently approved a retirement incentive to alleviate the recent budget cuts. This incentive may help the district gain more money, but it will lose a distinguished personality within the staff, school bus driver David Weich.  
            Weich, 68, is a five-year veteran bus driver for the Re-5J school district. Initially he wanted to be a school teacher and coach and never thought he would turn out to be a bus driver.
“Not in my wildest dreams, I would ever think I would be a bus driver,” Weich said.
            Weich grew up in Norfolk, Neb., and graduated high school in 1960. He went to junior college with a coaching scholarship. Weich dropped out after a year and then was drafted into the military. He spent two years in the Army and came back home to Omaha, Neb., where he spent 38 years at Alcatel-Lucent technologies.
Weich later went to work at Elizabeth schools in Colorado. He was hired as a contractor to do yard work and maintenance, eventually becoming a bus driver. Weich and his wife later moved to Johnstown in 2006, and he was hired as a bus driver at the Re-5J school district.

“There is one thing about the Re-5J school district, and there are a lot of nice people here,” Weich said. “It is a great place to live, and I do thank Re-5J for the incentive to give me a little bit more push that I needed to get out the door.”
On Jan. 12, the Re-5J school board approved the final Voluntary Retirement Incentive. This incentive is for licensed and classified employees who have worked for the district five years or more. The retirement plan offers employees 50 percent of their annual salary for two years after they retire.
This retirement incentive was proposed by the school board to entice higher salaried and older district staff to withdraw from their jobs to make room for new employees who could be hired at lower wages.
Martin Foster, the Superintendent of Re-5J schools, said only four employees took up the retirement incentive. Three out of four employees were classified, which means their salaries are significantly less than licensed employees. The school district will save $70,000 next year.
Weich is a classified employee. Although Weich only has one job as a bus driver, he carries three different routes on one shift, twice a day.
Within rural education it is harder to replace one person because he or she may have multiple jobs within the school or district.  
“I think there is far less flexibility within a rural district. The smaller the school district, the less flexibility in staff,” said Harvey Rude, a UNC professor of special education and an expert on rural education.
Rude said it is very common for a teacher to also be a coach, and even a superintendent will take the position of a bus driver.
Weich is looking forward to his retirement.
             “I just couldn’t be happier with the retirement and the incentive. It is going to help me down the road and I’m glad I got the chance to get into it,” Weich said.
Weich and his wife plan to travel to Texas, South Carolina and Washington to see family in the months following his retirement. He is excited to travel but will miss being behind the wheel of his big yellow school bus and seeing the school children that occupy the seats.
Foster reflected on Weich and his employment. “He has been a very loyal and dependable employee. He loves his job,” Foster said.  
Weich adores his job so much that he will savor every last minute of his last day.
“The day of my retirement is May 20, and I plan on driving up to the last minute,” Weich said.
That last minute will be the hardest for Weich, as he will turn the key to shut off the bus, the bus door will open and he will step out to close and lock the door one last time. The seats on the bus will be empty, but his mind will always be full of enduring memories such as his first stop in the morning with the young girl waiting at the end of her driveway.

The Miles Within a Successful Career
David Weich picks up students for Roosevelt High School and Milliken Middle School. He then drops off students at the high school and then drives to Milliken Middle School, three miles away. Weich then drives back to Johnstown and picks up children for Letford Elementary. This covers an estimated route of 50 total miles every day. Weich’s high school and middle school route is S3 and his elementary route is E1.
Source: David Weich