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Cuyahoga County school districts struggle with bus driver shortage

Posted: 6:00 AM, Nov 22, 2017
Updated: 2017-11-22 12:49:57Z

Across the country, school districts are dealing with school bus driver shortages and Northeast Ohio is no different.

News 5 spoke with two districts who say the shortage is the most severe as it has been in years.

"We're trying to hire and we're just struggling everyday trying to cover these routes," said Erin Peacock, Supervisor of Transportation at Rocky River School District. 

She has been at the school district for years, and says the lack of drivers makes it hard to successfully perform their routes.

Though they have been finding ways to make it work, the stress is hard on everyone.

Peacock says that her staff has stepped up the plate in face of these shortages.

"They know we're short, they're coming in with colds, they're coming in not feeling well with headaches," she said. Though they constantly advertise for new drivers, those driver seats remain hard to fill.

The same thing is plaguing Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District.

Transportation Supervisor Rick Fillmore says one of the reasons for the shortage is that the training is tremendous and the hours cannot be guaranteed.

“You start out normally as a substitute driver and we cannot guarantee you how many hours you’re going to get”, says Fillmore.

To drive a school bus you must obtain a commercial driver’s license, and classes could take up to twelve weeks to complete. Once a candidate completes the courses, they must begin driving as substitute drivers, and can move up the ranks from there.

Job insecurity plus the extreme responsibility of the job may make this a less than desirable position for many. However, those who do work in this profession say it can be a fulfilling job, especially for those going into education.  

The reasons for the shortage across the country is complicated. However, here in Ohio the premature retirement of many drivers fueled the problem.

A recent reform to The School Employee Retirement Systems of Ohio Pension Program, saw that drivers with 25 years of service as of August 1st 2017 had to retire, in order to keep their full benefits.

Many of these drivers still drive on a part-time of substitute basis, but it is not enough to fill the gap that their retirement has left. Both school districts are looking into incentive packages to lure drivers.

Rocky River says they will pay candidates an hourly rate while training to get their commercial driver’s license.

News 5 reached out to several school districts within Cuyahoga County to know if they are struggling with the same shortage. Cleveland Metropolitan School District did not respond to our interview request. However, spokesperson Roseann Canfora told us that they too are dealing with a significant bus driver shortage. They are currently operating with a staff of 256 drivers, 14 short of their ideal goal. They are in various stages of the interview process with several candidates.