The CEO of the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority said Dayton Public Schools should take over the responsibility of busing its high school students because they are causing problems near and sometimes on RTA property and buses.
“Our drivers are becoming afraid of them, our passengers are becoming afraid of them,” CEO Bob Ruzinsky told the Dayton City Commission earlier this month during a work session. “It’s going to hurt our agency. In my opinion this is a problem for the school board to solve.”
But Dayton Public Schools officials say the district does not have enough school buses and drivers to do that, and solutions offered by the school district have been shot down by the RTA.
DPS is required by state law to make sure all of their own students, plus students who live in the DPS geography but go to another school, get to school on-time and are picked up after school. Columbus and other large school districts have also struggled with busing this year.
DPS had about 11,668 students enrolled in their schools in fall 2022, and about 7,140 Dayton students were enrolled in Montgomery County charter schools in the same time period, according to the Ohio Department of Education. A few thousand more from the DPS area attend private schools.
“Many of the cases that they’re complaining about are not DPS students,” said Elizabeth Lolli, superintendent of Dayton Public Schools.
RTA officials say they are exploring their options to deincentivize the school district from using public buses and encourage it to use yellow school buses.
Credit: Jim Noelker
Credit: Jim Noelker
Ruzinsky said students sometimes loiter, engage in disrespectful behavior and get into fights on RTA property. Asked for more detail by the Dayton Daily News, Ruzinsky said he didn’t have specific statistics.
But he said increased police support, RTA supervision staff and DPS school resource officers, when available, help keep issues under control at Wright Stop Plaza, the downtown transit hub.
Ruzinsky said it’s his job to protect RTA’s passengers, employees and interests, and that the area around the bus hub is a “hot mess.”
“You know for the most part, the kids are respectful — they get on the bus, they go home, they get on the bus, they go to school,” he said. “It’s the small number that are causing the trouble.”
Chris Riegel, who owns the Stratacache office tower about a block north of the bus hub, said an area near the hub along Jefferson Street is not safe because people “day-drink” and do drugs and engage in inappropriate behavior.
“The problem is growing,” he said. “Students are most certainly involved, but there are problems beyond the students with others who hang out there all day.”
Dayton Public Schools is buying 3,000 to 5,000 bus passes every month, and many students have to transfer buses at Wright Stop Plaza, RTA officials said.
Putting thousands of students on the public transit system instead of yellow school buses does not work well, just as it didn’t 20 years ago, Ruzinsky said.
However, many security and safety issues were later resolved when Wright Stop Plaza opened, which is private property, and the transit agency focused on trespassing troublemakers who violated code of conduct rules.
RTA also had a contract with the school district to provide limited-stop bus service for students that was cancelled after the 2007-2008 school year, RTA officials said.
Limited-stop service involves routes that only operate during school hours and mainly operate in neighborhoods near individual schools.
RTA officials said the transit agency saved and refurbished 30 buses it was planning to get rid of and hired dozens of drivers to provide busing for students, but it ended up selling those buses and moved drivers into other roles after the contract was terminated.
RTA officials said they are not interested in restarting limited-stop service.
DPS still buses kindergarten through eighth-grade students to school but it no longer buses high school students.
DPS purchased more than 500 bus passes this year for its own high school students to get to school after Ohio law changed around busing kids to charter schools and further penalized districts who didn’t get students to charter schools on time. The remaining bus passes go to kids headed to charter and parochial schools.
DPS does not have the drivers to bus DPS students and everyone from charter schools and parochial schools, Lolli said.
There’s also an issue of charter schools not adjusting their start times to allow the district to bus more kids, Lolli said. And the district doesn’t have enough buses even if they did have enough drivers.
Lolli said DPS has paid for their own security at the bus hub to help keep students under control and also to protect students.
DPS board member Gabriella Pickett said students at the RTA bus hub face unsafe situations. Kids have been offered to buy illegal drugs, and people have exposed themselves to students, she said.
Credit: Jim Noelker
Credit: Jim Noelker
He said the RTA is looking at ways to discourage the school district from using public buses for school transportation.
By law, the RTA must sell general bus passes to Dayton Public Schools if the transit agency sells passes to other people and groups, Ruzinsky said.
But he said he’s looking at what would happen if the RTA stopped selling passes altogether. He said he does not think the school board would give students cash every day to ride the bus.
“Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to come to that, but I have to plan for Plan B because I don’t think this is going to be good long-term,” he told Dayton leaders. “I think we’re waiting for something bad to happen if the school kids don’t get on yellow buses again, operated by the schools.”
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said the downtown community has seen an increase in unruly activities this school year.
Most students are well-behaved, she said, but the partnership has heard complaints from some downtown businesses and property owners about disruptive activities involving young people.
“We’ve been working with Dayton Public Schools, RTA, Dayton police and other stakeholders on strategies to relieve this situation,” Gudorf said.
Short-term strategies could include increased police and security staff visibility, she said, but the longer-term issue is finding the best way for DPS to bus its students.
Gudorf said a couple of workgroups of community stakeholders have been formed to try to address these concerns.
Downtown is the economic center of the region, and people need to feel safe in the urban center, she said.
“I believe that everyone — Dayton Public Schools, RTA, the city, everyone — believes the best way to get the students from home to school is yellow buses,” Gudorf said. “How we get that accomplished — that’s what the community is working on.”