New bus driver is a familiar face

WBSD hires Gene Lettau to transport students
Gene Lettau completes his training for driving a school bus for Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District. His wife, Terry, has been driving school bus for WBSD for 40 years.
Miriam Nelson | NEW MediaRuss Howard shows the newest bus added to the WBSD fleet. He and co-trainer Jodi Zmudka oversee the six two-hour sessions offered to drivers who want to get hired.
Miriam Nelson | NEW Media
Miriam Nelson
News Editor

WITTENBERG — The Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board approved the hire of Gene Lettau as a full-time bus driver at the July meeting.

Last year, route nine was divided and added to two other routes due to not having enough full-time drivers. Lettau will now drive that northern route.

According to Paul Yaeger, WBSD transportation director, another full-time driver would allow them to reunite route three as well. There are 12 routes in all.

Lettau graduated from Witt-Birn in 1971, and he’s been on several bus trips with his wife, Terry, who has been driving bus for the district for 40 years.

“I basically know what to expect regarding the behavior of the students and what to do to keep them safe,” said Lettau.

He retired from Greenheck and keeps busy on weekends with his polka band, II edition. The polka band features him on the trumpet and Terry on the concertina. To fill the week days he decided it would be a good idea to follow his wife’s lead and drive bus.

“I just thought it would be fun for us to go to work together,” said Lettau. “I’m looking forward to it.”

According to trainer Russ Howard, WBSD is one of the few places that has an active training program. Howard has been driving bus for Witt-Birn for four years and shares the bus driver training program responsibilities with fellow bus driver Jodi Zmudka.

“There’s a lot to it,” said Howard. “We offer six two-hour sessions of training.”

Drivers need to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL), and pass the written test for the bus driver certification. WBSD pays for the training and reimburses the cost of the CDL, which is $150, and the written test, which is $30, after a driver has worked for the district for six months.

Yaeger noted that he needs board approval for any full-time hires, but part-time drivers may be added at his discretion. Drivers are paid $15.30 per hour upon hire, $15.90 after six months, $16.41 after one year and $17 after two years. He said finding people who can work both the morning and afternoon shifts, five days a week as required for a full-time position is challenging and generally those positions are filled by retirees. No insurance is offered to bus drivers.

Witt-Birn school teachers Waylon Resch, Troy Ostrowski, and Mike Balliette have been doing morning routes for years. It works out well for them and helps with the scheduling, said Yaeger.

Superintendent Garrett Rogowski went through the training and is able to fill-in when needed. A lot of the sporting and extracurricular events, which require transportation, are covered by spouses of the coaches. This works out well according to Yaeger, but he is mindful that as coaches leave or retire, he will need to have replacements ready to fill the gap in coverage.