School districts struggling to keep buses on the road

School districts in the region have been struggling with having enough bus drivers and substitutes due to COVID-19 and other issues to get kids to and from school each day. The Franklin school district was forced to call off classes on Monday, Dec. 13 because there were not enough bus drivers or substitutes to transport students. FILE PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
School districts in the region have been struggling with having enough bus drivers and substitutes due to COVID-19 and other issues to get kids to and from school each day. The Franklin school district was forced to call off classes on Monday, Dec. 13 because there were not enough bus drivers or substitutes to transport students. FILE PHOTO

On some days, there are not enough school bus drivers to run the 23 van and bus routes to get Franklin City Schools students to and from school. When it gets to that point, you might find the school’s superintendent behind the wheel.

Superintendent Mike Sander said they have had to find creative solutions to get students to and from school or be faced with cancelling school for the day. That happened last Monday when 12 of the bus routes were unable to be covered.

“We’ve had as many as nine bus routes not covered on a school day,” he said. “We’ve set rotations and started school later at some buildings as bus drivers would start a second pickup after dropping off the first pickup at school.”

ExploreEven custodians, print shop workers driving school buses for local district amid shortage

Sander said when that happens, the transportation department notifies the building principals, who in turn, notify parents. He said the district works to notify parents early enough to give them time to plan for alternative transportation to school for their students.

Stepping up to substitute as school bus drivers are cooks, custodians, mechanics, other administrators and almost daily the district’s transportation supervisor, Sander said. He has also picked up a few routes when necessary.

“The community has been understanding and have been very supportive,” Sander said. “They know we are doing our best.”

He said there are a limited number of bus drivers and that it’s a driver’s market right now as nearly every school district in the state are looking to hire full- and part-time bus drivers.

Sander said the district is looking for substitute bus drivers. Currently the district is offering free Commercial Driver License training and will pay $21.53 an hour to start plus employee benefits such as health insurance, dental and vision.

“Everybody is having this problem and it’s universal across the state of Ohio,” said Superintendent Tom Isaacs, of the Warren County Educational Services Center. “It’s a terrible, terrible problem and its been a problem for years.”

He said the WCESC is one of eight regional training center for bus drivers to obtain a CDL. Isaacs said there are some districts willing to pay as much as $28 an hour plus benefits and still can’t hire anyone.

He also said some districts are also looking at their policies to transport students who attend parochial and private schools and possibly move them to driving regular bus routes.

Isaacs said under Ohio law, local school districts are required to transport students to their private school within a 30-minute ride from their home school district. If a school district cannot do that, they are required to provide a payment in lieu of transportation to the parents which is about $300 to $400, he said. However, he believes in many cases, the parents would rather have a school bus transport their kids.

Scott Marshall, Springboro Schools spokesman, said the shortage of bus drivers has continued to be an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic began. He said the district has not yet been forced to cancel a school day because of transportation issues.

“Almost every day, our transportation director and two bus mechanics are on the road as substitute bus drivers,” Marshall said.

He said the Springboro district is offering a $1,500 signing bonus for bus drivers and will pay $20.03 an hour plus benefits to drive. The district is also offering paid on-site CDL training.

Marshall said the district has about 60 drivers covering 140 bus routes to transport just more than 6,000 students a day.

Lebanon City Schools also has a substitute shortage and when employees are ill, supervisors, office and maintenance staff are pressed into service as bus drivers if they have a CDL, according to Wendy Planicka, district spokeswoman.

Carlisle Schools Superintendent David Vail said “fortunately the district is fully staffed.

About the Author