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School bus driver shortage could lead to 'drastic changes' in Copley-Fairlawn routes

Now hiring school bus drivers
Posted at 5:27 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-24 21:14:53-04

COPLEY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Emily Putinski and her husband both work and rely on school buses to get their three boys, ages 10, 8 and 5, to schools in the Copley-Fairlawn School District.

"It's definitely a big deal just to be able to have a full day of work," Putinski said.

This week, she was taken aback when she received a district email asking parents to "voluntarily remove their children" from bus routes due a bus driver shortage.

"We have been thinking about it— if we would be willing to volunteer— but we're hoping to stay on the bus," Putinski said. "We're not yet ready to let it go because we would need to hire outside care to pick them up."

In the email, the district said it may be forced to make "drastic changes" in the way it transports students.

Ideas under consideration include consolidating bus routes, creating more group stops, increasing times students spend on a bus, potentially only transporting those students who live more than one mile from schools or eliminating high school transportation.

Superintendent Brian Poe stressed the bus driver shortage is not unique to Copley-Fairlawn. He pointed out districts all over Northeast Ohio and around the U.S. are struggling to keep and hire drivers.

"We currently have 22 drivers. We had two drivers that we lost the first week of school last week. We have a third driver that's going on medical leave in September, so when you lose 10% of your workforce, it's going to make a major impact on transporting students," Poe said.

The superintendent told News 5 the possible change to only bus children more than a mile away would affect about 600 students. That includes the Putinski children.

"I feel for the parents. This is not a money issue for us. We are not cutting because we don't have the funds. We just don't have the bodies to drive the school buses," Poe said.

Poe said, as of Wednesday, about 170 families indicated they would be willing to find other ways to transport their children to schools, but it wasn't clear if all of those families are currently using buses, or if that would be enough for the district the keep the current route system in place.

If the district doesn't get a sufficient number of volunteers by Aug. 26, it will be necessary to reduce the number of students transported.

At this point, Poe fully expects changes will be necessary.

"I think our transportation routes will be affected. We have met multiple times daily to try and look at some different options," he said.

The district will continue to post signs and advertise for the open bus driver positions.

"Our pay rate is $20.50 per hour up to $23.88 per hour," Poe said. "We will ask for folks to be bus drivers. We will pay for the training."

Putinski will take a wait-and-see approach and hopes she doesn't have to rearrange the way she gets her children to school.

"It's a little scary, but we're just gonna hang on and hopefully something happens. Maybe the email will spike people to become bus drivers."

RELATED: Area school districts work through bus drivers shortage, actively recruit new drivers

The bus driver shortage isn't just something Copley-Fairlawn is dealing with. Earlier this month we told you about how schools in Parma and even the rest of the country is having to adjust to the lack of bus drivers. Watch more in the player below:

Area school districts work through bus drivers shortage, actively recruite new drivers