Many school districts in Ohio continue to struggle to find enough bus drivers and are having to change routes to deal with the shortage.
In the local school district of West Holmes, transportation supervisor Coreena Johnson was forced to abandon a bus route, which no longer had a driver. The students were dispersed into three different buses.
“It mostly affected the high school/college route,” Johnson said. “Elementary students were transferred to a bus, and high school and college students were distributed in three buses.”
Wooster City Schools OK…for now
Transportation Supervisor Laurie Sizemore of Wooster City Schools said she is fully booked at this time. She will soon be able to add a route that had been absorbed for lack of drivers.
Sizemore said she has three on-field visit backups who can fill in when needed but are worried about the future.
“Wooster City Schools is fortunate to have two contractors who come in to work every day,” she said. “But we don’t have anyone waiting in the wings. When I lose people who will be retiring this summer, right now I don’t have anyone to replace them.”
Employees have until March 1 to inform the district of their future plans. At least one is considering retirement, she said.
Sizemore needs more replacement helpers to replace.
“It’s a great shift, 7am to 9:15am, then 2pm to about 4:15pm,” she said. “It’s a four hour shift that gets you up and moving to start your day and then you have this big free space to do what you need to do and then you’re back home at 5. evening hours.”
Black River getting by
Black River Transport Supervisor Bruce Berry said the situation for drivers in the district was not ideal but was working.
“I fill in as a driver,” Berry said. “But so far knock on wood, I haven’t had to cancel routes or combine routes, but that would be the next thing. I had to juggle some people.”
He’s interviewed five candidates since Thanksgiving; only one accepted the position.
Ideas to attract bus drivers
Johnson said West Holmes tried different options to find pilots. She organized a bus driving event and the district pays for most of the training required, including the first CDL test.
“It’s stressful for the drivers, especially if they’re sick and need a day off. They don’t want to take that day off because they know we don’t have underdrivers,” said Johnson said. “They were remarkable.”
Johnson said she and the two district bus mechanics serve as backup drivers when needed.
“We’re not the only district going through this. It’s happening all over the country,” she said. “Ours isn’t as bad as some of the other districts because we’re a smaller district. We have fewer roads than some.”
West Holmes bus drivers average around 160 miles a day on the 19 routes in the district.
Pay scales vary by district
West Holmes is paying its full-time bus drivers $18.39 an hour to start, with benefits, for the 2022-23 school year.
The district’s supply driver salary ($15.25 per hour) is lower than other school systems. Schools in the town of Orrville, for example, pay $20/hour for subs. Johnson said a raise could help attract new drivers to West Holmes.
Sizemore reports that a replacement van driver earns about $14/hour while a replacement bus driver earns $18/hour. When on contract, bus drivers go for $21.62/hour.
“We’re not the highest paid in Wayne County, but we’re close,” she said. “My employees, if the opportunity arises, can apply and get a second job, and they can get insurance here.”
Black River relief drivers got a raise of more than $2/hour this year to almost $17/hour.
“We’re competitive with other districts and superior to some,” Berry said. “I think the problem is that people don’t want to take responsibility. There’s a lot of responsibility with other people’s children. There’s also a lot of training for part-time work.”
Not all neighborhoods suffer
Orrville Transportation Supervisor Matt Wyatt said his district is meeting staffing needs. Shane Twining of Dalton Local also said he had enough drivers.
“We’re in pretty good shape here at Dalton,” Twining said. “Most of the schools here are doing well.”
Twining said community support is strong, which helps maintain a strong workforce.
“We have a decent pay scale for drivers, but I think a lot of people in the community have kids in the neighborhood who are interested in driving,” he said.
Twining has hired three Dalton graduates with kids in the school district as drivers in the past 18 months.
“Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to have people here who are interested in driving.”