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Central Ohio schools have enough bus drivers to start school year, but may need more substitutes

A stop sign on a school bus.

Columbus City Schools and South-Western City School District said they have enough bus drivers to start the school year.

Two of Central Ohio's largest school districts have enough school bus drivers to begin the school year but are still looking to recruit more as the nation faces a shortage in the occupation.

Columbus City Schools spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant told WOSU Wednesday the state's largest school district, sprawling across Franklin County, is well short of the ideal 650 drivers the school district needs to be considered fully staffed, but the district has more than enough drivers to start the school year and get students to and from school safely.

The district employs over 500 drivers and has dozens more in training for a commercial drivers license required to bus students to and from school. The drivers operate on 410 routes in the sprawling school district while another 105 routes are serviced by contracted bus drivers.

Bryant said the district continues to recruit drivers and is investing in support staff for the drivers by increasing the call center staff and dispatchers.

Related: Central Ohio schools have enough bus drivers to start school year, but may need more substitutes

South-Western City School District spokesperson Evan Debo said his district is in a similar situation to Columbus. The district, which encompasses Grove City and much of southern Franklin County is the sixth-largest district in the state.

Debo said compared to the last two years, the bus driver situation is much better and has enough drivers for all 181 routes.

He said the problem is that their "bullpen and reserves are feeling the pinch" more than their starting lineup of bus drivers. He said the district has five substitute bus drivers and is trying to recruit more.

South-Western City Schools, unlike Columbus City Schools, does not require its drivers to get a commercial drivers license but they do put substitute drivers through a multi-day training.

Bryant said the CDL training program to get drivers trained lasts about 6-8 weeks.

A school bus driver trainee is paid $18.50 for five hours a day by Columbus while a regular bus driver is paid $22.15 for a minimum of five hours a day according to the district's website.

Columbus City Schools is coming off a year of turmoil for its bus routes as it struggled to recruit drivers.

Columbus began running new routes planned by tech company AlphaRoute in fall 2022 after entering into a three-year, $1.6 million contract. But there were problems from the beginning. Most importantly, the district was not able to make adjustments quickly with the company’s software. It decided to pivot mid-year to the software it was previously using from another company, Versatrans, said district spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant.

That same company is behind a disastrous change to a Kentucky city's school bus routes that resulted in more than a week of canceled classes last week.

Bryant said Columbus City Schools has invested in its transportation support staff by increasing its call center staff and dispatchers. She said the transportation team has completed the process to create bus routes for its transportation-eligible students.

She said transportation mailers started going out last week, and continue this week and are posted in Infinite Campus Parent Portal.

South-Western starts classes on August 21 and Columbus starts classes on August 23.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.