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School bus crisis hits home, COVID not only to blame

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MERCER COUNTY, W.Va. (WVVA) - School bus drivers are in high demand right now -- retired school bus driver K.D, Hill tells WVVA the pandemic bears some of the blame, but not all of it.

"Money issue, and also safety issues and drugs probably play a role, a major role in it," he said.

Hill says people don't want to give up their lifestyle choices to be tasked with driving students to and from school.

"And that's pretty much the issue, we can't take more than an aspirin,” he said.

Amy Harrison with Mercer County Schools says turnover isn't that great, but a lot of bus drivers in the area have retired and replacement applicants are sparse.  

She says last year - amid the pandemic - kids needed to be socially distanced from each other.

Harrison is the data & information specialist for Mercer County Schools.

"So that caused a problem, as well, we needed extra buses, extra runs, extra drivers," she said.

This year it's different.

"We are going back to the normal schedule bus runs, that should help,” said Harrison. “As well, our main problem is substitute bus drivers."

Transportation Director Mercer County Schools Oka Boothe says West Virginia has one of the most stringent requirements for drivers in the United States.

"There are candidates out there, but you have to understand were hauling people's children so we can't just put anybody on the bus.

"You have to pass a background check, you have to pass an alcohol test, you have to have a Class B certification CDL license, and you have to have a passenger endorsement."

If you can pass the lengthy requirements -- there are a lot of perks, according to Boothe.

Bus drivers work only 10 months out of the year - no weekend work unless you choose to pick-up extra hours and typically when the weather is bad, drivers get to stay home.

Former bus driver Anthony Dishner - now on full-time says he stuck it out for the perks - but it would be nice to have more substitute drivers - COVID-19 did not add more work to drivers.

"It’'s not that much more to cover for COVID and the things we have to do," he said.

Dishner says the most important requirement is to love working with kids.

If you think you've got what it takes to be a school bus driver, the application can be filled out online by clicking here.

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Annick Joseph

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