ELKHART -

A comprehensive program is underway this summer to train new bus drivers in the Elkhart school system.

The district says it would like to hire an additional 35 drivers. Part of that move, is to replace 13 drivers who have retired.

Another is to meet the needs of a recently passed referendum, regard a two-mile walk zone.

"With the passage of the referendum, we have been able to shrink the size of that walk zone, to one-and-a-half miles, and that means we are going to get transporting more students, which is a good thing," says Doug Hasler, executive director of Support Services with Elkhart schools.

One training class is just wrapping up for new drivers, and another will start next Monday.

"The ideal candidate is someone who has safety foremost on their mind and who wants to work with students," says Henry Lohmeyer, director of transportation at Elkhart schools. "We will train and teach someone to drive."

Potential drivers are interviewed, get a background check and then hit the books before getting behind the wheel for training.

Leigh Bell, who has 15 years of driving experience, is one of course instructors.

"There's a lot of safety issues that we have to go over," says Bell. "And we  practice all of that. It's three weeks of intense training, for at least four hours a day."

Instructors point out that driving a school bus involves all kinds of different factors and scenarios, whether loading or unloading students, or getting out in the road in different conditions.

"We train on how to handle what is going on in front of you, while you are watching to be safe and what's going on behind, you with the students," Bell says.

Those who qualify, will receive a benefits package, along with pay of $17.23 an hour.

If you are interested in applying for a position, call the transportation office at 574-262-5695.