By Kim Walter
Given a recent shortage of substitute school bus drivers in Shenandoah County, the school system is offering training sessions to get students and community members on their way to attaining a commercial driver's license, with hopes of making them future employees.
Martin Quigley, transportation supervisor for the school system, said there are 87 bus routes, all with drivers. However, there are only three substitute drivers, who are used frequently. Looking ahead to spring athletic events, scheduling drivers is becoming more of a challenge.
"Just scheduling transportation for athletic events in the southern campus has taken me over a week," Quigley said Tuesday. "We haven't missed an athletic event yet, but it's going to be a struggle."
In order to increase the number of qualified school bus drivers, classes have been offered to graduating seniors from the county's three high schools.
Instructional training sessions also have been offered to adult community members as well. Those sessions wrapped up last weekend. There were 20 applicants in the adult classes, but the process is nowhere near completion.
Students are still in the class phase, with sessions being held once a week for 90-minutes. A successful candidate for obtaining a CDL learner's permit must complete 24 hours of the training, so graduating seniors won't finish until the end of May, Quigley said.
A person must be 18 to hold a CDL. To drive a school bus for the county, applicants will have to obtain a CDL license, Class B with the following endorsements: "P" for passengers, "S" for school bus and one for air brakes.
Applicants also must have a high school diploma or General Education Development equivalent. A driving record from the past five years has to be presented as well.
After finishing the academic portion, four tests have to be passed through the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a CDL learner's permit. Drug and alcohol tests must be completed, and if the presence of either is found, a candidate would be eliminated from the process.
Once an applicant gets a permit, he or she must complete a minimum of 14 hours of bus driver training on the road, a pre-trip inspection, and a minimum of 10 hours driving with a bus trainer while students are on the bus. A physical has to be completed and returned at some point in the process.
Quigley said if an applicant is aggressive in the process and passes all the phases successfully and efficiently, there may be some additional substitute drivers by the beginning of September.
One roadblock for Shenandoah County, though, is that there are no full-time bus driver trainers. Quigley said the three primary vehicle trainers are also internal staff members -- two of them are mechanics and the other is the shop supervisor.
"To get these applicants fully trained will take months," Quigley said.
This is the first year that the classes have been offered to students, but Quigley said he hopes it will continue. He said the benefits can reach beyond the county, as students could obtain the license and use it toward other careers.
"But for the ones who stay here, they could be a substitute for the school system inbetween other jobs," he said. "It'd be great if two or three of the interested students stick with it and wind up working for the school system. Just two or three of them would be a plus."
When presenting the idea for student classes to the School Board, Quigley offered some statistics on vehicle accidents and the associated age of drivers responsible for them.
"I believe once you review this data you will be surprised as to what age category of drivers we should really be concerned with," he wrote to board members.
The statistics suggest that the most accidents -- fatal or not -- occur when a person 25 to 34 years of age is driving.
"I think over all, going through the process is a real eye-opener to folks. There's a lot of information they not only have to understand, but have to demonstrate on a daily basis," Quigley said. "Operating a school bus is an awesome responsibility. It takes every bit of attention you have."
Quigley said trainees will be closely monitored throughout the process. According to his proposal to the School Board for the class, "No one will receive the certification to operate a school bus without passing the most vital test of the trainers and certifiers under our employment: Would I want this person transporting my child or grandchild!"
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com