Upshur Schools Superintendent Christy Miller speaks at Thursday's Create Buckhannon meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Upshur Superintendent of Schools explains Thursday’s bus driver shortage, outlines plan moving forward

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Schools superintendent said the lack of buses on Thursday, Nov. 9 was a ‘perfect storm’ after several drivers called off work.

Upshur County Schools Superintendent Christy Miller attended the Nov. 9 Create Buckhannon meeting, where she addressed several topics related to the state’s takeover of the county school system, including the lack of buses available for pickup Thursday. She also described tensions that resulted after a countywide analysis of the hours professional and service personnel were working found issues among some employees working two jobs.

“Today, most of the drivers called off for doctor’s appointments or other appointments they may have canceled previously,” Miller said. “I don’t think we will see this the next school day; I think today was just that perfect storm.”

“Our folks are dedicated, and I don’t see this lasting past today,” she continued. “There will be occasions that maybe one or two may have to be canceled, but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The Upshur County Bus Garage made a Facebook post on the evening of Nov. 8 to warn parents/guardians and students that several buses would not complete routes.

“We regret to inform you that there are multiple bus cancellations for Thursday, November 9, 2023,” the post read. “The following buses will not be making a morning or afternoon run: bus 24, 26, 30, 35, 86, 96, 238, 243, and 244. Additionally, buses 87 and 236 are not making a morning run. Bus 15 will not be making an afternoon run. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience that this causes to our families and desire that, if able, you bring your child to school tomorrow. If they are unable to attend school tomorrow, please provide a notice to your child’s school.”

The problem in Upshur County this week was compounded by several resignations this fall among the transportation staff.

“I don’t have enough bus drivers – I just don’t,” Miller said. “There has been some tension in the garage. I can’t shy away from it; you have to deal with it head-on. We lost our director after she decided to seek a position in her home county, and today is also the last day for the transportation supervisor. She also got a job in another county. But like everything else that we have faced, we will go forward and we will make things better.”

At least four drivers have also resigned from their positions since Sept. 6, according to the personnel list presented at this week’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting.

Miller said they also lack substitute bus drivers, making completing routes difficult when drivers call off.

“I think it’s going to get better, and starting another bus driver training class so we can get some more substitutes will be beneficial,” Miller said. “We want the community to know if you’re interested in being a bus driver, secretary, aide or cook, we need you, and that’s why we’re taking on an advertising campaign right now to try to find more people to step into these roles.”

Miller said she was considering combining routes since multiple buses may be traveling the same roads.

“We’re going to be looking to see if there is a way we could combine some runs, so maybe one bus that might not be as full could stop and pick up a certain number of students, and maybe somebody else could pick up another number of students, but those are things that we have to look at the schedule to determine,” Miller said. “Several people have mentioned to us they noticed there will be three buses coming down the same road, and each stop doesn’t make sense, so we could combine those onto one bus and maybe send another bus someplace else.”

Students unable to make it to school because their bus never arrived receive an excused absence called a “bus day.”

Miller said part of the tension at the bus garage began after administrators began investigating the hours the various professional and service positions were working across the county.

“We had to determine for all service personnel how many hours they were going to be working in a day, and we make that decision according to [West Virginia] Code,” Miller said. “And then we found out we had some employees who had been working their regular, full-time position they were hired to do, and then they were leaving that and were working another position. But they were changing the hours of both their regularly hired full-time job and this other job they were going to, and that is illegal. You can’t do that. So that caused a lot of upset.”

Miller said the bus drivers take on a huge responsibility and she will continue working to strengthen the transportation department.

“Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can really rise, and I think we’ve done it,” Miller said. “I think today demonstrates that we hit bottom, and for whatever reason, those drivers needed to be off.”

“I stand before you, respecting the fact that they had to be off,” she added. “Do I like it? No. But I respect the fact that we have drivers who are dedicated to trying to get our kids to school on a daily basis, and today is what it is; you have to face those issues, and you have to move forward.”

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