SHENANDOAH COUNTY – There's a shortage of qualified bus drivers in Shenandoah County. To fix this problem, school leaders are trying something new.
Currently, the 87 bus routes have drivers, but if any one of those drivers gets sick, retires, has a family emergency or gets another job, there are only three substitutes ready and willing to drive the route. That's why school district leaders decided to train graduating seniors to potentially take over next fall.
Chris Tusing is a senior this year at Stonewall Jackson High School. He signed up for the course to get his commercial drivers license and help his job search in the future.
"If there's a job open for driving a bus when I get out of school, I'll take it. Any job that puts a little food on the table I'll take," said Tusing.
This course was designed to do just that.
"Build those individuals towards an expertise, which you have to have to operate a school bus, so that we can have seasoned bus drivers that we can replace retirees when the time comes," said Martin Quigley, the transportation supervisor for Shenandoah County Public Schools.
The current driver shortage is the biggest problem and Quigley said it could put students at risk.
"I still have mechanics who are operating school buses for us on a daily basis. So when I have a mechanic driving a school bus, they aren't there if we have a break down. Then you're going to have children stranded on the road and we don't want that."
Getting to school isn't the only problem the district is facing. Students participating in extracurricular activities may also need the bus. For example, the swim team needs transportation to get a pool, which takes an hour's drive to get there.
"I was concerned, because we have limited pool time. We have to travel so far, it's not like we can have our kids hop in the car or work together and car pool up there," said Dee Dee Knauff, the swim coach at Stonewall Jackson High School.
Scheduling the drivers has also become much more difficult.
"We juggle events every day, I used to be able to plan things out a month in advance, and we'd have drivers guaranteed to take trips. Now I do it a day at a time just to make sure we don't miss extracurricular trips," said Quigley.
The swim team had to make some changes to make it work.
"I downsized so that I could drive the activity bus, and not have to worry about riding on a school bus," said Knauff.
Even if students decide to leave the area or pursue other jobs, the class is still beneficial.
"All kinds of job opportunities, as far as driving a truck. And I can drive the Pepsi truck now instead of unloading it, and doing all the grunt work," said Tusing.
The class isn't just for students.
Another class will open to the public next week, so adults can get their commercial licenses, too. If you're interested in this class, you can find more information here: www.shenandoah.k12.va.us/cms/One.aspx
Follow Amelia Nahmias on Facebook.