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Many W.Va. Counties In Crisis Mode Over School Bus Driver Shortage

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Cecelia Mason
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
School bus driver shortages are causing longer bus routes and creating challenges transporting students to extracurricular and sporting events.

Numerous West Virginia counties are struggling to recruit and retain school bus drivers and mechanics.

State school transportation director David Baber said bus driver and mechanic shortages are a fluctuating, county by county problem.

“Unfortunately, it's kind of up to the individual county,” Baber said. “It’s what works best for them. We have certain areas that are worse than others. The population, the economy makes a difference whether we can get people to work.”

West Virginia school bus drivers go through at least 50 hours of rigorous training. Baber said more affluent counties, like Cabell, now pay for the training. He said many others still do not.

“It's most always been that way. There was no provision in the state code or anything to pay for that training unless the county had excess money, and most of them don't have any excess money,” Baber said.

“Plus, we have new federal regulations that took place in February that even make it a little bit stricter and tougher on us.”

Baber said, like many other states, school bus driver shortages are causing longer bus routes, creating challenges transporting students to extracurricular and sporting events - and some walking-to-school boundaries are expanding.

Baber says there’s no state plan to recruit, retain or increase pay. He says some counties are finding drivers by using Facebook ads and roadside help-wanted banners.

He noted that West Virginia is an older state, and many veteran school bus drivers are retiring, without younger replacements.

“We have a lot of retirees and a lot of our bus drivers have been working in the system for years,” Baber said. “When they retire, we don't have the folks to fill those positions. We're seeing the same thing on the technician's side as well.”

Baber suggested that anyone interested in school bus driver or mechanic work should contact their county school system.

Government Reporter, ryohe@wvpublic.org, 304-634-8123

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