AKRON, Ohio — The continuing school bus driver shortage all across the state is being felt hard right here in Northeast Ohio. Akron school officials say the lack of drivers has put the district's transportation department near the edge of failure.
Transportation Coordinator William Andexler said the shortage is forcing parents to adjust their schedules to accommodate the different bus pick-up times for their children.
"We're all exhausted, we're very tired. Drivers are tired, supervisors are tired, administrations tired. Everybody's tired," said Andexler.
Akron schools are short 19 bus drivers this school year and between 50-60 van drivers, according to Andexler. The district usually has around 160 van drivers.
"We had to cut routes at the beginning of the year because we didn't have the drivers," said Andexler.
Andexler said anywhere from 10-20% of bus drivers are absent on any given day, whether they're quarantining for COVID exposure or out for personal reasons. That means, bus routes have to be consolidated and more kids are put on buses.
"That's going to increase travel time. So now parents are upset because now their children are on the buses longer than what they were last year," said Andexler.
Andexler said other driving jobs like online food delivery are pulling potential bus candidates away. Additionally, rising COVID-19 cases in the state have some people hesitant to drive a vehicle with a large number of children in it, even if they are all wearing masks.
Earlier this year, Akron Public Schools installed a disinfecting mist system in its buses to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Andexler said though some other local school districts have temporarily suspended busing, Akron isn't quite there yet.
"But we're right on the edge," Andexler said.
He said applications have been scarce, but a recent job fair brought in about 20 drivers they're working through the system. But tough vetting protocol often whittles the applicant pool down, and then people who are selected for the job have to go through extensive training.
"It could take up to two months or sometimes longer to get somebody that would drive a school bus," said Andexler.
In the meantime, Andexler said he's pulling members of his office staff who have CDLs to pick up bus routes.
District officials are also making a back-up plan in case it can't get kids to and from school.
"We're having discussions on exactly how we're going to be able to work this out, and it's not an easy discussion to have. Nobody wants to cut busing. We want the kids in the school," said Andexler.
Other districts facing shortages
Last week, Barberton City Schools suspended busing on the main bus routes until Oct. 7. Normal busing will resume on Monday, Oct. 11 since Oct. 8 is a teacher workday and students have the day off.
Bedford City School District wants to hire about a dozen drivers but so far can’t fill the positions. So, everyone in the district who has a CDL license and the proper credentials is being asked to help drive.
In Euclid, 25% of the bus drivers are off the job because of COVID-19 or COVID-19 protocols. District officials have asked the governor to deploy the Ohio National Guard to help transport children.
In Norton, staffers are pulling double duty to help get kids to school. School mechanics and transportation directors are busing children. Other staff members like coaches are working on getting their CDL's so they are able to drive the students.
Roughly 9 out of 10 of Ohio’s 714 school districts are being impacted by a bus driver shortage, COVID or both, according to the Ohio School Boards Association.
About 750,000 children ride the bus everyday in Ohio. Across the state, about 15,000 bus routes have been canceled or consolidated, according to the Ohio School Boards Association.
Gov. Mike DeWine's Office is now looking at ways for the state to help the districts in need.
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