BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County School system has been struggling with a shortage of bus operators for the last six to eight years.
How much of a shortage? Right now, the county has just one substitute bus driver.
“If at any point someone is sick or if someone has to take a day off, it puts us in a position of not having enough people,” Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Stankus said. “What we have been doing is using our mechanics, who are required to be CDL-certified and trained to drive a bus. We have folks in our system who have stepped up to help. We have custodians who have become bus operator-certified just to help out. We may have to ask a custodian not to do their job for that day and come drive bus.”
But on Tuesday night, the Upshur County Board of Education members will be voting on a proposal they hope may fix that issue during their regular meeting which is slated for 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
Item XI on the agenda is “Approval of promissory note for substitute bus operators” which, if approved, would provide substitute bus operators who finish training and work nine months for Upshur County Schools as a bus operator a stipend of $1,500 for their training time.
During an interview with MyBuckhannon on Wednesday, Stankus and Upshur County Schools Transportation Director Randy Hardman said they hope the stipend will be approved. They believe it will enable them to attract and retain more bus operators.
Stankus said the proposal was modeled after a Harrison County School System proposal.
“Our board knows it’s an issue. They want to address it. I think they have been very proactive in their approach to addressing the issue. They have been very forward thinking,” Stankus said.
Stankus and Hardman both agree one big factor playing into the bus operator shortage is people’s decisions to work in the oil and gas industry, which offers better pay.
They said the requirements to become a school bus operator have grown as well. Training includes obtaining a CDL license and endorsements for driving a school bus. In addition, there are just two West Virginia Department of Education Certified Trainers in Upshur County – Hardman and Kyle Linger.
Hardman said they have checked with surrounding county school systems to see about the possibility of sharing substitute bus operators. However, when he checked with Lewis and Randolph counties, he discovered they’re facing the same shortfalls in bus operators.
“Right now, we have four people in training to become bus operators,” Hardman said. “Training takes 52 days and that is a long time to be without a job.”
Hardman said he has put out fliers in convenience and auto parts stores advertising that the Upshur County School System is hiring bus operators. Stankus said they have ordered a large banner advertisement for bus operators.
“We are going to put that on the side of a bus and park it in different locations to let people know we are hiring bus operators,” she said.
Hardman said the Upshur County School System currently has 46 buses on the roads each school day that transport about 3,500 of the 4,000 students to and from school.
“Anyone who wants to know the ins and outs of the training process can give us a call at 304-472-1544 and I can supply them with any information,” Hardman said. “We will have a new training class starting in January.”