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Ohio schools start a new year facing an old problem: a bus driver shortage

A school bus moves through in a northeast Columbus neighborhood
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A school bus moves through a Northeast Columbus neighborhood

Ohio students are headed back to school, but getting them there might prove to be a challenge.

There hasn’t been much of a break in the bus driver shortagethat’s been going for at least two years.

Most school districts are still short of drivers for the 15,000 routes covering a million miles that Ohio school buses travel each day. Doug Palmer, senior transportation consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association, said districts have taken a number of steps to cover the shortfall. Some have revamped their routes, used maintenance or other staff to drive or promoted substitute drivers to full-time positions.

But that still leaves them short when regular drivers are sick or unavailable.

Palmer said competition from the private sector leaves districts struggling to hire drivers.

“We continue to face a small candidate pool due to the large number of jobs that are available from this home delivery service. Every business now delivers to your home within an hour or two," Palmer said. "People have opportunities that they didn't have before. And so we've lost a lot of candidates that want to drive for a living. And they're now delivering parcels instead of pupils."

Palmer said the whole school day is affected when there aren't enough drivers.

"It really affects the education because some kids aren't going to be in classroom or they're going to be late. Teachers are going to have to adjust their teaching plans," Palmer said. "It's very, very disruptive to school."

And it can get serious. In Lexington, Kentucky, after a transportation consultant redesigned the district's bus routes, there were so many logistical snarls and delayson the first day of school that some kids didn't get home till 10 p.m. The next two days of classes were canceled while the district sorted out the bus routing issues.

Ohio law requires public school districts to transport private and charter school students. Palmer said a solution could involve "transferring ownership of vehicles to the privates and the nonpublic schools and the charter schools and helping them create a transportation system for themselves, [so] now we've got a bigger pool to pull from."

"I think trying to sit down and work with everybody at the table - state legislators, private school organizations, the public schools — I think we need to really sit down and dig into this after school gets up and going and looking and seeing what type of solution we can pull together," Palmer said.

Because of the law requiring public districts to transport all eligible students, Palmer said Ohio does more bus service than any other state.

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Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.