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Bus Driver Shortage Forces Nearly Half Of Ohio School Districts To Cancel Routes

 A school bus stops in a central Ohio neighborhood on the first day of school in September 2020.
A school bus stops in a central Ohio neighborhood on the first day of school in September 2020.

More than 40% of school districts are reporting having to cancel bus routes regularly, according to a survey sent out to districts around Ohio.

Twenty-three percent of Ohio school districts that responded to a survey from the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation described their situation as being "in desperate need."

A quarter of districts report they have had to cancel routes once a week. Fourteen percent said they had to cancel a few times a week. Three percent said they've had to cancel routes every day.

The cancelations mean parents or caregivers then have to get their kids to school themselves or the students miss class that day.

“We have over 50% of our responses saying that they have to cancel routes at one time or another. And that, right there alone, is quite a big issue," said Dave Oglesby is the president of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation and assistant bus supervisor for Kettering City Schools in the Dayton area.

Oglesby conducted the survey to find out the real, daily impact of the statewide school bus driver shortage. Oglesby got 333 responses to his survey that went to Ohio’s over 600 districts, which he said is a high return rate.

A flood of recent retirements is fueling the shortage, which has been building for a while. There's also some competition for drivers from the commercial trucking industry.

The districts that responded said overwhelmingly, they feel pay is the biggest reason they can’t find drivers. Sixty-three percent of districts said they thought pay was the reason people weren't taking bus driver jobs.

Forty-five percent of districts report paying drivers between $16 and $18 an hour, and 33.9% said they paid between $19 and $21 an hour. But Oglesby noted there's a lot of responsibility for a bus driver.

"It's not just getting behind the wheel and driving kids places. It's making sure they're safe," Oglesby said. "The responsibility and liability with this job is very high. And people that come in, they're like, 'that's not enough money for me to take on that kind of responsibility.'"

The split-shift hours the drivers have to work were thought to be a problem for 52.3% of candidates, and 45% of districts said benefits were a reason. Oglesby said driving a bus was once considered a good job for retirees or stay-at-home parents, but now he said more people are looking for full-time positions.

While the driver shortage has become critical during the pandemic, COVID was cited by only .6% of respondents as a reason they felt candidates weren't hiring on as drivers.

One thing also noted by districts was the delay in getting required background checks for drivers completed, sometimes as long as 60 days. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Attorney General Dave Yost will expedite those checks.

Oglesby said districts must work together to resolve the immediate problems and to come up with a more permanent solution to the shortage.

The idea of bringing in the Ohio National Guard to help drive buses, Oglesby said he's concerned that those personnel need to have the checks, training and other requirements that the law demands.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.