Students late as bus driver shortage makes Kettering double up routes

Kettering schools’ ongoing bus driver shortage led to some students getting home later than normal Tuesday, as the district had to double-up bus routes at multiple schools.

Beavertown, Greenmont and JFK elementary schools each had one fewer bus than usual, and Fairmont High School had two fewer, according to district officials. In each case, students who ride the affected bus had to wait at school for another bus to finish taking its students home, then circle back to pick up the waiting students.

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Delays were also possible at the two middle schools, which have the latest dismissal times, depending on when high school and elementary buses finished their routes.

Kettering officials said in a letter to parents last week that they’ve already been stretching their staff as much as they can, but they’ve been unable to hire enough drivers and substitutes. When existing drivers are out sick, the problem gets worse.

“Currently, all transportation staff trained in driving a school bus – and this includes everyone from our transportation supervisor to our bus mechanics — are called upon almost on a daily basis to cover routes,” the letter said.

School officials said the doubled-up routes were only for Tuesday so far.

EARLIER: Driver shortage a nationwide issue for schools

The bus driver shortage is not new. Kettering has had a large sign posted along Far Hills Avenue for much of the past two years, asking people to apply for bus driver positions.

And the shortage is not limited to Kettering or Ohio. A 2017 School Bus Fleet magazine national survey said nearly 25 percent of responding schools called the driver shortage severe.

Dayton Public Schools, which pays less than many surrounding districts, has had staffing problems for years, narrowly avoiding driver strikes twice. Miamisburg schools combined some bus routes this fall, leading to longer rides for students, citing a shortage of drivers.

School bus drivers need a commercial driver’s license, and with the growth of the warehouse and trucking industry in Dayton, many of those drivers can find jobs offering more hours and a more friendly schedule than the split morning and afternoon shifts of a school bus driver.

2016 STORY: Kettering needs more drivers before start of school

The hiring challenge has increased as unemployment rates have remained low, with fewer people searching for jobs.

In Kettering’s letter to families, they cited staff turnover, a drop in the number of applicants and an increase in the need for “unique transportation services,” which sometimes involves special needs students, as reasons for the driver shortage.

Kettering schools asked anyone interested in training to drive a school bus to come to the district transportation office, 2640 Wilmington Pike, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday for an immediate interview. The district also will interview candidates for bus aide positions at the same times.

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