Busing shortage rears its head again in Dayton schools

Lolli asks parents who are able to get kids to and from school themselves

As Dayton Public Schools completed its first week of in-person classes, several parents said they had to scramble to get students to and from school after buses were canceled on multiple days.

Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said on the whole, it was a good first week with students back in school, but she acknowledged “transportation continues to be a challenge,” blaming driver absences.

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“As a district, we are working to resolve these issues, however, there is not a quick fix to a situation that has been ongoing for well over five years,” Lolli said. “We request that any parent that can transport their children to school, do so.”

Gloria Nichols said the bus for her daughter who attends Horace Mann Elementary was only available one morning out of five this week, and even that day, the driver went to the wrong bus stop.

“Her grandma took her to school, and that’s risky because her husband is at high risk for COVID,” said Nichols, who has to be at work before the school day starts. “But a choice had to be made about sending her to school.”

DPS officials said the district currently has 135 drivers to cover 132 daily routes. Lolli said each day this week, between 16 and 22 bus routes were uncovered due to driver absences. On social media, parents posted pictures of their bus cancellation notices, which asked families to pick up their kids from school.

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“The district is in discussion with the head of the (drivers’) union about these continued absences,” Lolli said. “DPS students and their families, as well as charter and parochial students and families, daily, are being negatively affected by drivers not reporting to work.”

The drivers union is working under the terms of an expired contract, as negotiations for a new deal continue to drag on.

Jim Gollings, regional director for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said when drivers off on longer-term leave are combined with normal illnesses and personal days, absences may total around 15%, which is in line with previous years. He said best practice would be for the district to have more reserve drivers to cover regular absences.

“Everybody’s doing their best. What’s different this year than the past is we’re in a global pandemic,” Gollings said. “What’s not different this year is what attracts and retains drivers is pay and benefits. If you want to get to a (sufficient) number of drivers, you have to look at that.”

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Despite some pay increases, DPS drivers have generally been paid less than those in surrounding districts. A starting driver makes $16.39 per hour, compared with more than $18 in Kettering and $20 in Mad River.

Numerous local school districts locally and nationally have struggled to find enough drivers this year. Troy and Kettering are among the other districts that have asked parents to transport their children if they are able. That’s less likely though in Dayton, which is one of the lowest-income school districts in the state.