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Ohio school districts still struggling with a bus driver shortage

A stop sign on a school bus.

School districts are starting this year with 17,000 fewer people working in K-12 education in Ohio than in the year before the pandemic. There’s also a continuing problem with a shortage of school bus drivers.

As retirements and resignations dramatically dropped the number of full-time school bus drivers over the last year, most districts adjusted their bus routes, said Doug Palmer with the Ohio School Boards Association. But there’s a new problem.

"Less routes are uncovered than last fall, but they are much shorter on their substitutes. They do not have drivers to cover when there's no driver in the regular driver's seat for that day," Palmer said.

Palmer said districts are using other transportation staff and mechanics as bus drivers, doubling up on routes, and even starting school a little earlier to give buses trying to handle more pickups more time.

Drivers with commercial licenses are in demand, so Palmer said the competition from Amazon, UPS and even snowplows at the Ohio Department of Transportation is fierce, but there are also some other delays.

“There's very strict background checks that school districts have to run on these individuals so they know who the individual is behind the wheel of that bus," Palmer said. "The BCI and FBI background checks, there's been some delays there, but there's also been some backlogs in the actual skills testing area for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles testing facilities. Drivers are having a hard time getting through that backlog.”

Since Ohio law requires public schools to transport all eligible students, their own as well as private and charter school students, Palmer said, Ohio does more bus service than any other state.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.