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Some W.Va. counties short on school bus drivers

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Joselyn King Ohio County Schools transportation employees Pat Shaw, left, a bus aide, along with drivers Liz Finzley and Virginia Garlitz, pause before starting out on their afternoon runs.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Joselyn King
Ohio County Schools transportation employees Pat Shaw, left, a bus aide, along with drivers Liz Finzley and Virginia Garlitz, pause before starting out on their afternoon runs.

WELLSBURG, W.Va. — Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis retired after 34 years as a school bus driver last year, but he has been working almost every day since then as a substitute.

Bus drivers – especially substitute ones – are needed in local school districts because trained drivers with commercial driver’s licenses are finding more lucrative jobs elsewhere.

“There is a lack of people of people to drive buses, and a lot of it has to do with the oil and gas industry,” said Ennis, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. “They earn a whole lot higher wage there than they would as a bus driver.

“Then there is the problem of just trying to find qualified people. They have to pass background checks, and have no alcohol or drug problems.”

He said a lot of times, a school district tries to hire 10 drivers, but half may be disqualified immediately because they can’t pass the background test. Of the five remaining, two go on to get a job in the oil and gas industry, leaving just three.

“Then after we train them, two come in and say the job is not for them,” Ennis said. “Out of that original 10, just one is hired. It’s a problem all through the state trying to get bus drivers.”

Ron Staffilino, transportation director for Brooke County Schools, said the district has for the time shored up the immediate need for drivers. There are 32 bus drivers in the district, as well as 10-12 substitutes. However, he said recently he was down to just six substitutes following two retirements and the death of a driver.

“We were facing a challenge, but after the last few postings, seven applied,” he said. “They are in training now ….

“We have been fortunate – knock on wood. Once we train them, hopefully they will stick with us. Assuming all those in training now qualify and pass their testing, we’re OK for now.”

In Ohio County, Director of Transportation David Ziegler acknowledged his school district also is having difficulties finding substitute bus drivers.

“With the oil and gas industry (hiring many away), it’s not as easy as it used to be,” he said. “We post the jobs online, but getting subs is a little difficult.

“Some of them have other jobs, and can only work certain times. Sometimes, we don’t have the convenience of a substitute that’s available all the time.”

He said there are 42 full-time drivers in the county, while the number of substitute drivers fluctuates.

Prospective drivers must endure a “a pretty lengthy process” of training before they can be hired. They must complete a 40-hour course in the classroom, followed by 12 hours of driving behind the wheel to obtain their CDL licenses with passenger certifications.

The process can take as little as two months, or as long as four months, depending on the motivation of the driver, according to Ziegler.

Ohio County Board of Education member Gary Kestner, a former director of transportation for the district, is among those now driving buses in Brooke County. State law doesn’t allow him to return to work in Ohio County and remain a board of education member.

He said he is aware of drivers who have obtained their CDL licenses applying for work in the oil and gas industry.

“It’s tough to get drivers because they’re out there,” Kestner said. “They’re competing like everyone else. If you have a CDL license, you can go to work tomorrow anywhere you want.”

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