Bus union rep says Dayton schools headed for problems if more drivers aren’t hired

A representative for the bus drivers union warned the Dayton Public School board Tuesday night about transportation problems the district could face if more drivers are not hired.

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A representative for the bus drivers union warned the Dayton Public School board Tuesday night about transportation problems the district could face if more drivers are not hired.

Superintendent Lolli says district raised pay and keeps trying to hire, but cites national shortage as problem

A representative for Dayton Public Schools’ bus drivers union warned the school board Tuesday night about transportation problems the district could face if more drivers are not hired.

Marie Winfrey, a DPS school bus driver representing the district’s school bus union, Local 627, told the board she was concerned about the lack of drivers currently hired to staff DPS’ transportation unit and the number of hours that bus drivers would be able to work.

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“I’m bringing forth this information to you so we can be better preventive before the school year begins, because at this time, it will be a failure,” Winfrey said. “We don’t have enough drivers at this time to cover that.”

Winfrey noted that with the driver shortage, the district will ultimately have to pay drivers overtime. Increasing route time would help everyone, she argued, and could attract more drivers.

A change in Ohio law that went into effect last fall requires school districts “to deliver students in preschool through grade 12 to their schools no earlier than 30 minutes before the start of the school day and to pick up no later than 30 minutes after the close of the school day,” according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Consistent noncompliance can subject school districts to financial consequences.

Elizabeth Lolli, the school district’s superintendent, said the district continues to seek more bus drivers.

“Every week there is a push to hire more drivers,” Lolli said. “With the statewide and national shortage, it has been a huge challenge.”

She said the district will continue to try to find drivers, just as other schools are doing. Bus driver salaries were significantly increased last year in an effort to bring more drivers to the district, Lolli said.

“We will continue to work with the union to find solutions for the shortage,” Lolli said.

Board member Chrisondra Goodwine said she was also concerned about busing shortages and urged her fellow board members to hear more from bus drivers. She said with so many prices on the rise, having few hours to work doesn’t make sense.

“I really hope that we hear from our transportation department, the individuals that are making the decisions about what’s happening in the upcoming year, at our next meeting,” Goodwine said.

Dayton Public Schools has changed its busing system for the upcoming school year, and will return to the previous policy of providing paid RTA bus passes for high school students, rather than regular school bus service.

Students who ride RTA buses to school will have to rely on RTA’s regular routes. DPS officials said the more specifically tailored “limited service” routes to schools that were in place in 2019-20 will not be back this fall. It is not clear how RTA’s recent changes in the number and frequency of bus routes will affect students’ ability to get to and from Dayton high schools.

Elementary and middle school students are eligible for busing to schools within the same quadrant where they live, as long as they live 1.5 miles or more away from the school. There are exceptions for students whose individualized education plan requires transportation, and for those attending a district-wide school (River’s Edge, Charity Earley and grades 7-8 at Stivers).

Just one year ago, Dayton Public Schools had signed a three-year, $17 million contract with First Student, with that contractor taking over busing of all the charter and private school students DPS is responsible for, leaving the school district to handle all students at DPS schools on its own yellow buses.

Jeremy Kelley contributed to this story.

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