Nationwide bus driver shortage strikes West Virginia

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WEST VIRGINIA (WDTV) -- Nobody behind the wheel.

5 News spoke with bus drivers throughout North-Central West Virginia about why they stayed. The unanimous answer was "for the kids."

"There's a shortage of school bus drivers," said Sherman Wilkenson, a substitute bus driver in Barbour County.

Nation-wide, school district officials are dealing with a lack of bus drivers.

"I am about the only substitute driver we have in Barbour County right now," said Wilkenson.

National Association of Pupil Transportations reports cite low pay and few hours as the reason many drivers are not staying.

Bus drivers are required to hold a CDL license. A qualification that can net drivers, on average, a $53,446 salary in West Virginia according to ZipRecruiter. But school bus drivers in local counties are typically only seeing incomes in the high $20-thousands.

"The process of becoming a driver takes a little bit of time. You just can't go hire someone off the street bring them in, put them in a bus. It doesn't work that way," said Wilkenson.

While Barbour County Schools have been forced to cancel routes due to shortages, Randolph County School officials say they have not.

"No, we have not. We have on occasion had less substitutes than we typically have. (...) We have always been able to fill our bus runs," said Debra Schmidlen, the Superintendent of Randolph County Schools.

She says staff are focused on retaining bus drivers.

"A lot of our substitute bus drivers are retired drivers who wanted to come back and help us out," said Schmidlen.

Staff also hire whenever they can.

"As soon as those postings come down, we post again. because I feel like if I can every even get two or three that are interested in becoming bus operators, I still want to grab hold of those folks too," said Schmidlen.

But even in the counties that are struggling, drivers say they stay for one reason.

"It gives you an opportunity to look for that training moment. If you can make one difference in a child's life. It only takes one, even though you are a school bus driver. It is beneficial," said Wilkenson.

5 News reached out to Barbour County Bus Garage officials who chose not to comment on this story.