Dayton preschoolers, high schoolers to get bus service

Dayton Public Schools had a driver shortage last year. The district spread out its school start times, so they could cover the same schools with fewer drivers.
Dayton Public Schools had a driver shortage last year. The district spread out its school start times, so they could cover the same schools with fewer drivers.

Credit: JEREMY KELLEY / STAFF FILE

Credit: JEREMY KELLEY / STAFF FILE

Leaders from Dayton Public Schools and an area charter school are hopeful that a change in how students are bused to school will remove barriers to attendance.

Starting next year, Dayton Public students who live at least 1.5 miles from school can ride on a yellow school bus, including preschoolers and high schoolers who previously didn’t get school bus service.

“We’re really excited about that,” Dayton Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said. “What this allows us to do is to offer on-time arrival to school, on-time arrival back home, as well as the opportunity to be on-time for athletic events and also field trips.”

The district will only pick up and drop off at child care centers if the center is on the school’s normal route. Students whose parents choose to send them to a DPS school outside their neighborhood will not be eligible for busing, except at specialty schools, including Stivers, Ponitz, Meadowdale and River’s Edge.

Lolli said the district has about 130 drivers, enough to cover its basic routes, and wants to hire about 30 more drivers to handle field trips and after-school activities. But hiring drivers has been major challenge for most local schools.

ExploreDayton Public School hopes $17M contract will solve busing woes

The district will be able to increase bus service by outsourcing transportation for charter and private school students to Cincinnati-based First Student.

The Dayton Board of Education last month approved a $17.7 million contract with First Student to handle busing charter and private school students.

Ohio law requires public school districts to provide transportation to private and charter school students in their boundaries. Ohio Department of Education data showed that just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, DPS had more than 12,500 students at its own 26 schools, 3,000 students attending 36 private schools and another 6,000-plus at 27 physical charter schools.

Dave Taylor, superintendent of the Dayton Early College Academy charter school network, said if First Student can deliver, then it will be a win for his nearly 1,300 students.

“We want to make sure that every kid has a filled route every day,” he said, noting that hasn’t been the case in previous years as they dealt with unreliable services caused by driver call-offs and had to provide Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority passes to high school students.

“Having direct routes for students is safer, it’s faster and it’s cheaper for us; we’re not required to buy bus passes for them,” he said.

If First Student can staff the contract, “I don’t see how it’s not an improvement over where we’ve been the last several years,” he said.

A First Student official did not return messages seeking comment.

Transportation problems have been cited as a factor in attendance problems at DPS schools. And the district has tried several things to address this. But a bus driver shortage seen by many area districts in recent years was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Lolli said this has a direct impact on students, as they miss education when they show up late or their parents have them simply stay home because they can’t get them to school.

“The opportunity for our attendance to improve will be there,” she said. “(Students) will be able to focus on school and get started right away at school and not be waiting on other kids that are on a delayed bus or buses.”