Dayton Public cited by state for failure to bus students

The Ohio Department of Education has cited Dayton Public Schools for non-compliance with the state’s law to bus students who live in the school district to charter schools, according to a letter from ODE dated Jan. 5.

The finding could affect the districts’ state refund for transportation, a complicated calculation that changed last year.

A total of 38 days will be reconsidered for funding changes, according to the letter, because those 38 days the school district did not comply with state laws that required it to bus all their students.

David Lawrence, DPS business manager, said the fine could be up to $750,000, which could severely affect the districts’ ability to pay for drivers and paraprofessionals, two areas where the district is already struggling to attract people to work. The most common issues DPS cited in the ODE documents for why they couldn’t get students to school was the driver shortage and the many different bell schedules at each school.

The school district is suing the Ohio Department of Education in Franklin County civil court over the ruling, saying ODE never took the necessary steps to create the rules it is now fining DPS for.

“DPS has sought a legal remedy for the ongoing compliance fines being levied against the district,” said Elizabeth Lolli, DPS superintendent. “The recent changes in legislation and the shortage of drivers have made it extremely difficult to transport all students, including DPS students, within the legislated time constraints.”

Lolli noted DPS students, as well as charter and private school students, have been affected by the ongoing transportation issues. Lawrence said the district continues to look for drivers and will be continuing to hire them.

Dayton Public has seen ongoing issues with transportation this year, like many other districts in the state, because of a statewide bus driver shortage and the requirement that public school districts like Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati bus all their students whether the student goes to public schools, a private school or a charter school. It’s not just big urban districts either - local suburban districts have also struggled to bus students this year due to the driver shortage.

ExploreBusing still a struggle for many local school districts

Urban schools are particularly affected by the requirement that all students be bused because brick and mortar charter schools are common in urban districts. In addition, a voucher program that began in 2006 allows specific districts, mostly in urban areas, to use a state voucher to pay for part of the tuition at a private school, adding more school buildings.

According to ODE, four charter schools and one private school submitted complaints to the state asking that Dayton Public Schools be investigated for non-compliance with state transportation laws. The schools were Dayton Leadership Academy, Trotwood Preparatory and Fitness Academy, Ascension Dayton, Pathway School of Discovery and Horizon Science Academy Dayton.

Horizon Science Academy principal Alyse Pennington said in a September Dayton Public Schools board meeting that buses meant to take her students to and from school weren’t showing up.

Other schools had similar complaints.

“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.”

ODE’s Office of Field Services and Pupil Transportation investigated the complaints and interviewed the schools and DPS, along with reviewing documents.

“While each complaint was investigated on an individual basis, the attached investigation report addresses the complaints in aggregate due to the volume of complaints and for efficiency of data presentation,” the letter said.

ODE will continue to monitor DPS on the transportation issue, according to the file.

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