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Bus driver gears up for school year

August 26, 1999

Wanda WisbyBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




KEEDYSVILLE - Wanda Wisby makes a special delivery every school day: Kids.

Wisby, 46, of Keedysville, is one of 240 drivers for the Washington County Board of Education. They have the often stressful job of taking students on the road and keeping them safe.

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"There's not one person out on the road who's carrying a more precious cargo," said School Board Director of Transportation Chris Carter. "It's a very difficult job and I think we have an excellent group of drivers."

A fleet of 178 black-and-yellow buses will hit the road Monday, signaling the end of summer. Some drivers like Wisby prepare by tracing their routes ahead of time.

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With 22 green seats empty, Wisby drove down her gravel driveway Wednesday, then stopped and scanned the road. "When you have children on, it's a lot different than a quiet bus," she said.

The weight and power of the bus is obvious when it makes a turn or climbs a hill. The bus lurches, its 185 horsepower-diesel engine pushing more than 13 tons. Wisby glances rapidly from rearview mirror to the road, taking in everything.

It is a new route for her. Last year Wisby delivered students to Hagerstown schools, but she wanted to be closer to home. This year she will take 38 youngsters to Pleasant Valley Elementary School and 57 middle and high school students to Boonsboro.

"It's rewarding," she said. "You do have some children that can give you problems, but that's everywhere. It's a challenge. As long as they're in their seats and they're not throwing things, I can take the noise."

She treats her passengers the way she wants them to treat her, she said. "I'm a stickler for respect."

She has been a bus driver for 16 years. A native of Westminster, Md., Wisby drove in Carroll County, Md., for 14 years. In September 1998 she moved to be closer to Millville in Jefferson County, W. Va., where her husband, Joe, works as a quarry supervisor.

It was easier to become a bus driver when Wisby started out, she said. She used to have a class "B" license but a CDL (commercial driver's license) is required now.

The School Board checks on whether a prospective driver has a criminal history. A drug and alcohol test is required before a driver is hired, and afterward, such tests are given at random and after accidents.

The state requires a physical exam and six hours of in-service training each year. At the School Board's Central Office, drivers go over road rules and defensive driving techniques. They learn ways to cope with passengers who have behavioral problems and train in a bus "rodeo."

All the buses have cellular telephones for official use and fire extinguishers. Some have "black boxes" with video cameras to catch bad behavior on film. Each has a "tachograph," which measures time, mileage and distance.

The little gray machines indicate how far the drivers have traveled as well as whether they were speeding. A little red bulb would light up beside Wisby should the bus speed hit 50 mph.

Other drivers don't always understand the need for extra safety. Wisby has seen people get angry when they had to wait or slow because of her bus.

"The way I look at it, it's their children on these buses," she said. "I wish people were more patient."

She doesn't let bad drivers affect her concentration, however. "You just can't worry about it. You just go on," she said.

On a typical day, she gets up at 5:45 a.m. and leaves the house within an hour to inspect her bus. She makes 22 stops before 7:40 a.m. and another 25 before 8:45 a.m. In the afternoon, the cycle continues.

Despite the stress of the job, Wisby enjoys seeing children every day. "I like to see them laughing and having a good time," she said. "You've got to love kids to do this job."

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