The trials and triumphs of Cordova School District’s transportation

By Joshua Pearson

The winter of school year 2021/2022 was not much different for the Cordova School District than most years. We had rain, slush, and then the snow.

One of the things that was different for the school district that particular year was that about halfway through the winter season, our small school bus broke down. Unfortunately, this occurred during one of the morning bus runs to pick up students and bring them to the school. Luckily, for our driver and a couple of students, it happened less than one block away from Mt. Eccles Elementary School. 

For many years we had been having issues with that same small bus, and many years we would send it off for repairs or do the repairs in house ourselves. But as the years went by, the issues that we were seeing with the bus were growing larger in safety concerns and larger in costs. Other than the previous issues with the handicap wheel chair lift not working properly, the always leaking issues of the emergency escape roof hatch during our Cordova rains that seemed impossible to remedy, and the everyday wear and tear, the last repairs that were made to the bus at the beginning of the 2021/2022 school year cost the school district roughly $3,500. And, judging by the trend of rising costs of repairs and the rising concerns for student safety, the school district administration knew it was time to retire that small school bus and look for ways to replace it.

That last breakdown in the middle of the road and the news from the guys at the shop that the bus basically needed a whole new rear end or it needed to be rebuilt, lead to that bus not being able to be utilized for student transport. For the rest of that school year, our bus driver, Janice Warga, used one of the school districts vans to make her bus runs, which in turn caused many conflicting scheduling problems. This was due to the fact that the school vans are usually used for student athletic travel out of town, and in town field trips for smaller class sizes.

Warga said “I believe I’ve been driving the little bus for 20 years and I enjoy seeing the kids grow into young adults.” But Warga and the district knew that small bus had run its course. 


The Cordova School District does have full-sized buses that are contracted and used for the larger bus runs that run just about the same routes every year depending on the needs of families and students.  Out to the 7-mile turnaround on the Copper River Highway, out Whitshed road to the turnaround just passed the marina, and also out Orca Road are the big bus runs. Unlike the bigger buses, the small bus is primarily used for students that may need a little extra help or time to load and unload the bus. The district having that small bus as an option with the shorter bus runs and the onboard wheelchair lift has been a very helpful asset through the years.

Later that winter, early 2022, superintendent Alex Russin discovered a student transportation grant through the Department of Education and Early Development (D.E.E.D.), which would turn out to be fruitful for the Cordova School District. This grant that was applied for by superintendent Russin and awarded to the school district would cover the entire cost of a brand-new small school bus. The grant coming in at just over $89,000 would include shipping to Cordova, at no cost to the school district. 

After much anticipation and many back-and-forth emails and conversations with the manufacturer, in June of 2022 the new school bus arrived in Cordova.

A brand-new Chevy 4500 chassis made into a Minotour school bus by Thomas Built Buses. This bus is equipped with a handicap wheel chair lift, safety cage body construction, multiple heaters in the passenger area, and many more amenities. The bus was delivered to Cordova in the middle of the school district’s summer break, but that didn’t stop our driver from coming to the school just to check out here new bus.

Although the bus wasn’t necessarily ready to transport students yet, due to state inspections and registration that had not been completed yet, I know Warga was excited to take it for a spin. The first day of the school year 2022/2023 was the first day that students had a chance to go for a ride on the new bus.

A couple of quotes that Warga heard from some of the students were “We are off to the wizard,” and “Let’s go on the roller coaster road.” You just never know some of the things that kids will say. I know that Warga and the students are thankful for their new ride, and the families of students know that their kids are safer in the new small bus, and that is what really matters to the parents and to the Cordova School District.

Joshua Pearson is the director of maintenance for the Cordova Public School District.