Bus drivers question BOE’s trips policy

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Bus driver Chase Woody address the Upshur County Board of Education Tuesday regarding drivers not getting extra curricular trips.

TENNERTON — Last school year, a shortage of bus drivers prompted the Upshur County Board of Education to revise policy 9004 and allow parents to transport their students for extra-curricular activities.

Now, bus drivers have approached the board of education saying they would like those extra-curricular trips back.

Bus driver Chase Woody said there are trips being scheduled that are not being offered to drivers and pointed to bus transportation being safer than a regular vehicle.

“We have had numerous trips go out on Saturdays and holidays when we have many drivers available and they are self-transport,” he said. “Numerous reports and statistics state that school buses are the safest form of transport. I speak for everyone at the bus garage that we are concerned about this.

“We put a lot of time and effort into our county drivers,” he said. “We are highly trained. We have went through state certification, CDL training, CPR and first aid, background checks, random drug tests. We are some of the better ones on the road.”

Aside from safety, Woody said that parents have expressed concerns to him about having to drive their children for extra-curricular trips.

“I have specifically spoken to multiple parents who had kids in sports last year who are not in sports this year, because they can’t provide transport for their kids,” Woody said. “They can’t afford it and they aren’t comfortable with allowing other parents to do it. I understand that is their right. I don’t think it’s fair that we are constantly requiring self-transport of these kids when we have buses available.

“We have been blessed with three new sub hires that has fixed most of our problems,” he said. “We are getting ready to train a whole another crew. We are covering the runs.”

Board vice president Katie Loudin asked where the problem was happening.

Woody said, “In our open discussions with Dr. [Sara] Stankus, we voiced our concerns to her and through her to the athletic departments. We are getting that ‘we do want to take buses; the buses are not available.'”

Board president Dr. Tammy Samples said, “If I’m not mistaken, this change was made in policy when we had a period of weeks where we couldn’t get a bus to take kids. We couldn’t get buses for these trips.”

Woody said, “I think the policy that was put in place was a correct move.”

However, Woody said the bus drivers are requesting the language in policy 9004 be strengthened so that if a bus is available that it be used over other options.

“We did leave the parent transport option because we know we can’t guarantee a bus is going to be available all the time,” he said. “If there were not enough drivers to cover regular runs, than we would have to cancel that [extra-curricular] bus just because our top priority is getting kids to and from school.

“I think that for the most part when we certified and started using three drivers we have now, that did help a lot.”

Loudin questioned the bus drivers picking up a trip two days prior — which is the current policy at the bus garage — does not allow much time for parents to figure out self-transport if no driver is available.

Woody said another issue is, “We can’t guarantee a bus until 2 p.m. that day.”

Loudin interjected, “That’s not OK.”

To which Woody said, “No, it’s not; but, on the flip side I don’t think it’s fair we are asking parents to self-transport. There was a trip going out yesterday that a guy had to take a half day off work to transport his kid to a game.”

Woody said parents have expressed their frustration to bus drivers about why they are not providing transportation but the bus drivers are not being offered the trips.

Loudin said, “Just from a safety perspective, I hear all of your concerns. I do think the ‘no exceptions,’ that part of the policy is a bit strong to me.”

But bus driver Brenda McCourt said, “I don’t believe in any way that there should be any excuse for a Saturday, Sunday or holiday trip that these trips are not taken by us drivers. These trips are not getting called into the bus garage. If they do get called in, they are canceled and two weeks ahead of time they are telling parents, ‘you are going to self-transport.’

Loudin asked about farther destinations, such as when the band goes to Florida or students go to Indianapolis.

Woody said those trips are chartered because school bus drivers are limited in going that far.

Samples said that she wanted students to be safe but that when she was at an athletic event and five students exited a school bus, people told her she was not being fiscally responsible for sending a whole bus.

“Trust me, it gets said to me a lot,” she said.

Woody said, “My argument to that would be the National Highway Safety Administration says students that are transported back and forth to an event are 70 times more likely to arrive safely at an event on a school bus versus a van or a vehicle. Only less than 1 percent of student deaths and injuries occur on a school bus in regards to transportation.”

Woody said school buses now get better gas mileage that is comparable to a 15-passenger van or micro bus.

“I think it’s very unfair of the board to push that gas expense or anything else on to parents,” he said. “We are saying we don’t want to pay for the fuel, we don’t want to pay for the driver so we are going to require a parent to possibly take a day off work.”

Samples said, “That was never what any of that was about.”

Sherry Talkington, field representative for Upshur County from the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said, “We should be using bus drivers instead of parent transport when they are available. It’s taking extra money out of their pocket when they don’t make much money.”

Bus driver Joe Tallman asked, “Why aren’t we going?”

Some coaches and athletic directors would prefer bus transportation while others do not, he added. Tallman also said he knows of kids who are not playing school sports because their parents cannot transport them.

“The kids are coming and telling me that the people in charge are telling them there are no drivers available and there are no buses available,” he said. “I think people in those positions ought to be told, ‘you do your job and let those bus drivers do theirs.”

Samples said any change to the policy would require three readings for public comment and she would ask Stankus to put together a committee.

“I would think we can form a committee and begin a conversation about this,” she said.