Busing still a struggle for many local school districts



Area school districts are still struggling to cover bus routes halfway into the school year, leaving some parents and teachers frustrated that students aren’t getting to school on time and calling on the state to help.

Most local school districts are still hiring bus drivers, with a starting wage between $18 and $23 per hour, depending on the district. But because Ohio law requires bus drivers hold a commercial driver’s license, the same license that truck drivers have, Ohio schools are competing with trucking companies, Amazon, FedEx, UPS and the Post Office for the same workers.

“Every day it feels like we are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Scott Marshall, spokesman for Springboro Schools.

He said mechanics have been filling in for bus drivers to cover routes in the Springboro district in Warren County, but that takes away from the mechanic’s own duties.



Some parents have complained to districts about the time their students spend on buses. Using people unfamiliar with routes can mean the drivers struggle, said Kari Basson, spokeswoman for Kettering schools.

“Our substitutes are doing a great job, but the reality is they are oftentimes driving routes that they aren’t familiar with, and it simply takes more time to drive a route that you don’t know,” Basson said.

The bus driver shortage has meant an all-hands on deck in some districts.

Jason Enix, the superintendent of Huber Heights schools, said he has been filling in as a bus driver for his district on an as-needed basis.

“I drive when asked and am able to within other constraints of my schedule,” Enix said. “I drove two afternoon routes last week and two the week prior.”

Enix said the district has 45 bus drivers and is always looking for substitute drivers. Huber Heights pays between $23 and $25 per hour.

Fairborn schools have had to cancel routes daily to deal with the bus driver shortage, said Pam Gayheart, spokeswoman for the district.

“While many of our parents have been very understanding of the need to cancel routes, we realize that it is a major inconvenience to parents and still receive complaints about it,” Gayheart said.

Northmont schools used a similar strategy where mechanics and staff can fill routes without a driver. Spokeswoman Jenny Wood said the district has not had many complaints from families because of the system.

The driver shortage has particularly hurt Dayton Public Schools, which is legally required to bus all students in the district, including students who attend private schools. Besides the more than 11,000 district students, DPS is in charge of transporting around 10,000 students who attend charter and private schools.



David Lawrence, business manager for DPS, said the district is continuing to improve transportation for students. In November, the district held a listening session for charter and private schools, and after that, route changes and workarounds were implemented to better communicate with those families.

The district is also continuing to hire full and part-time drivers, with starting pay of more than $20 per hour.

“DPS strives to provide safe and reliable transportation to all,” Lawrence said. “As driver positions are filled, the district is confident that the services provided to students will continue to improve.”

Charter and private schools have filed at least 20 complaints against Dayton Public, saying the district has failed to provide adequate transportation to their schools.

“I am not sure they know what a transportation plan is,” Ascension Catholic School wrote on their formal complaint to the state about DPS busing on Nov. 15. “The Catholic schools in the area are having a lot of problems.”

Cincinnati and Columbus Public Schools have also received multiple complaints from local charter schools about the quality of their busing to private and charter schools.

What can help?

Interim state superintendent Stephanie Siddens met with charter and public school leaders last month to discuss the ongoing issue with busing. Public school administrators said they need more help from the state in training and attracting more bus drivers.

Ohio has one of the strictest standards for bus drivers in the country, and school leaders said they don’t want to change the high standard. But many said state money to help districts train drivers would be helpful, or even using the National Guard to help drive buses on a temporary basis.

“Funding school transportation at a higher level so we can be competitive with private transportation companies that require a CDL would be a first step,” said Wood.

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