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Mon Schools recruiting bus drivers

MORGANTOWN — Put Tony Harris behind a big steering wheel, and you’ve got a happy man.

That’s what he did for 20 years as a school bus driver in Preston County.

Mountain roads, where the pavement appeared to disappear once you finally crested the top.

Lanes barely wide enough for a subcompact — and don’t even think about a big Bluebird bus painted yellow.

Potholes, swoops, switchbacks … and January.

“Hey, I liked driving in the snow,” laughed Harris, who is now director of transportation for Monongalia County’s public school district. “I lived for it.”

And he really liked his passengers. Students he saw every day, and their siblings, and their moms and dads.

“That’s what made it enjoyable,” he said.

If you’ve ever thought about doing what Harris did for a living, Saturday is your chance to give that steering wheel a turn.

The district is recruiting drivers that day from 8-11 a.m. at University High School.

You’ll have the opportunity to get behind the wheel, accompanied by a staff driver, and pilot the bus on a controlled course in the UHS parking lot.

To take part, you must be 21 with a valid driver’s license — but a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, isn’t required for Saturday.

“A CDL streamlines the hiring process,” Harris said, “but we’re not worried about that for Saturday. We just want people to come out.”

His department will provide all the information and forms for those who choose to seek employment with the district, including instructions on how to apply for a CDL, if need be.

Full-time drivers in Mon’s district earn $131.48 a day for a six-hour shift, the director said.

Counting three substitutes and a crew of mechanics who also get behind the wheel, Harris oversees 130 drivers for the district’s 120 routes.

In Morgantown, Suncrest, and on W.Va. 705, it can get downright urban, with actual rush-hour circumstances.

Out on the western of the county, and anywhere else, where the unincorporated towns lie, then it’s a different, rural deal for negotiating the road.

“It’s interesting,” he said.

Ten years ago, he watched as his fellow drivers left to drive for Marcellus shale crews, when the speculating and drilling were full-on.

Now, COVID-19 is causing nationwide shortages of school bus drivers.

Mon Schools’ transportation department has been lucky in the pandemic, he said.

A number of drivers have been in quarantine and out, in past months.

Last week a driver tested positive, forcing another to park it in isolation for two weeks because of contact tracing.

“We’re holding steady for the most part,” he said.

Most people who get hired and enjoy the work hold steady in their employment as well, Harris said.

“By the time I retired as a driver, I was hauling the kids of the kids who were with me when I first started out,” he remembered.

“Like I said, that was always the best part of the job for me.”

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