The Senate Education Committee approved two measures at its meeting Thursday, one involving the state’s ongoing bus-driver shortage.
Senate Bill 41
Senate Bill 41 establishes a minimum net enrollment of 1,200 students for county boards. The bill’s provisions affect boards of education in Calhoun, Gilmer and Wirt counties, according to Senate Education Chair Amy Grady of Mason County.
Current law establishes a 1,400-student enrollment “floor,” determined by dividing the state’s “lowest county student population density by the county’s actual student population density,” adding that amount to the county’s actual enrollment, and increasing the figure 10%.
Senators Vince Deeds of Greenbrier County and Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County asked whether the 1,200 figure replaces the exiting 1,400 enrollment floor.
Based on response by Senate counsel and Senator Grady, the 1,400 calculation remains, although the bill stipulates “in no event shall the net enrollment be set below 1,200 (students), beginning with the next school year and subsequent years.”
County boards wouldn’t be penalized by the 1,200-student “threshold” in terms of a related school aid formula provision requiring boards to use state school funding to ensure deployment of a specific number of professional instructional personnel or educators who work directly with students.
Senate Bill 56
Senate Bill 56 defines “area of critical need and shortage for substitute bus operators.” The bill would allow retirees (State Teachers Retirement System Code citation) to be employed as substitute bus operators for an unlimited number of days each fiscal year without affecting their monthly retirement benefit.
“Area of critical need and shortage for substitute bus operators,” as defined by SB56, “means that the number of available qualified substitute bus operators in the county who are not retired and are available and willing to accept substitute bus operator assignments is insufficient to meet the projected need for qualified substitute bus operators.”
A county board is required to adopt a policy the state Board of Education must approve to use the bill’s provisions.
Retired bus operators are considered “day-to-day, temporary, part-time employees. The substitutes are not eligible for additional pension or other benefits paid to regularly employed employees and may not accrue seniority” and could continue in the positions until the position is filled with a regularly employed bus operator “fully qualified for the position.”
Senator Grady said most county boards were affected by bus operator shortages.
Senator Mike Oliverio said a Monongalia County Board study showed student behavior — not pay or CDL requirements — was the main factor cited for bus operator shortages. He said the Monongalia County Board suggests bus operators could be hired to work one shift rather than having to be employed to work both morning and evening shifts.
Senator Grady said student behavior is an issue bus operators cite, although she said students who have bus behavioral issues may not exhibit behavioral issues in school.
Senator Oliverio suggested the Legislature study whether county boards could receive funds to secure bus aides to assist with bus discipline.
The Senate Education Committee approved both bills last year, but they died in Senate Finance.