Athletes, especially those on the ski teams, and other students sometimes have not been able to attend events because the Natrona County School District cannot get enough bus drivers, some of their parents said this week.

Darcie Gudger's son is a member of the Natrona County High School Nordic ski team, and he's experienced this problem first-hand.

"It's been difficult for the teams to get up and down the mountain; they've had issues with the buses," Gudger told the district's board of trustees on Monday.

The state tournament occurs in two weeks and each team -- from NCHS and Kelly Walsh High School -- would like to have their own bus, she said.

"It seems that we're really short of bus drivers right now, and if there's any way to come up with solutions to increase the amount of bus drivers available to support our students and athletic programs that would be great," Gudger said.

Anna Studer, whose freshman son is on the Kelly Walsh alpine ski team, agreed.

Studer asked the board to put bus driver issue on its agenda for future discussion.

The district has offered higher pay and incentives for bus drivers, and that's a good start, she said.

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Likewise, parent Lisa Crum has two children in the district and said the shortage of bus drivers has led to the cancelation of extracurricular activities such as field trips.

Crum said she recently spoke with people in the district and said the problem is wider than just a lack of drivers.

"It seems like a systemic issue," she said. "There's a lack of communication, a lack of transparency."

Crum asked if the district cannot retain drivers or cannot pay them enough, and whether more could be trained for long trips and for driving up the mountain.

Extracurricular activities enrich all students, she said.

"As we know, it decreases the criminality; it helps with the commitment to education," Crum said.

Later in the meeting, the trustees acknowledged the parents' frustrations.

"Please know that we're well aware of the problems," Rita Walsh said. "It's being worked on daily, and we hope to get that improved."

Kevin Christopherson said he's hosted 10 foreign exchange students over the past nine years. One of the students' highlights is to go to Jackson, but the student this year could not go because of the district's driver shortage.

The problem is bigger than the school district, said Christopherson, who owns a trucking company.

The reality is that money is tight, he said.

"About half of my equipment is sitting idle right now because I cannot find drivers," he said. "It's not just this district, it's Casper, it's Wyoming, it's the entire industry."

Just hiring more drivers isn't the solution, either, Christopherson said.

"We don't want unqualified people hauling these kids up the mountain," he said. "I know it feels bad to not go get to go on a trip, but can you imagine what would happen if we had one of these buses crash because we stuck an unqualified person in there? We can't do that."

The district is trying to fix this problem, Christopherson said.

"But guys, reality is what it is."

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