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School bus driver shortage affects most Northeast Ohio school districts

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 10:45 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:04 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates uncovered an urgent need for bus drivers in almost every school district this year.

With the nationwide staffing shortages we’ve seen across several industries lately, it’s really no surprise that schools are struggling to fill positions too.

As the school year is about to begin, administrators say the unfilled bus driver openings are certain to affect your kids and maybe even your schedule too.

With three kids in different Avon Schools, Kristyn Fitchko says the school bus is crucial to her family.

“It would be virtually impossible for me to get them all where they need to be, if I didn’t have the bussing,” she said.

Fitchko realized the need for school bus drivers in her community this year when she began to see all the advertisements posted around town.

Off Detroit Road in Avon, the district has parked a bus on a hill with a huge banner attached to it.

“I just kind of thought, there’s one more thing,” Fitchko said.

Franco Gallo is the Superintendent of Lorain County’s Educational Service Center, which helps 14 different districts in the hiring process.

He says he’d need about 50 more school bus drivers to fill all the open positions among the schools.

“In years past, we had some places that had these needs and this year everyone has these needs and some places it’s pretty bad,” he said. “In years past, people would apply and have to get their training on their own, and now schools are so desperate for these folks that they will pay for the training.”

That training that usually costs applicants hundreds of dollars, Gallo says.

His schools though, are not only competing with other districts for drivers, but also Amazon, UPS and other private sector delivery companies that grew exponentially during the pandemic.

Bill Andexler is the transportation coordinator for Akron City schools.

“Oh Absolutely, we lost some drivers,” he said.

He says he’s down about 15 bus drivers and 50 independent contractors that drive vans for the district.

“Before the pandemic, we were short but it was manageable,” Andexler said.

This year, both Andexler and Gallo told us students are certain to be impacted.

“We’ll get the students there to school, but they may not be there on time. They’ll run late to school and late picking them up,” Andexler said.

Gallo said, “They have to cancel field trips or combine routes or they have to extend routes where it’s going to take longer for the kids to get home.”

“That would make a big difference,” Fitchko’s daughter Madison said. She worries more time on the bus could negatively affect her practice and homework schedule, not to mention-- her brother’s aspirations to play high school football this year.

“They’ve been through so much this past year too so to have sports back again and be able to go play these games, it means the world to them. It would be hard,” Fitchko said.

According to both districts we spoke with, bus drivers start out making around $17 to $23 dollars an hour.

You can apply for a position in one of the Lorain County Schools on their website.

Akron also has instructions on how to apply to drive for them on their website.

As you can imagine, the pandemic continues to impact bussing as well.

It’s not a requirement across the board, but we found many districts are keeping at least some COVID safety measures in place on buses, which deepens the need for drivers that just don’t seem to be applying.

Andexler says Akron students began riding two to a seat instead of three during the pandemic.

“Those are procedures we are still going to follow,” he said.

He says it’s the safer option, but also complicates the operation of his already understaffed bus route.

“The driver need goes up. If you put more busses on, you need more drivers,” he said. “If you can’t put more drivers out there, then you have to take busses off the road.”

Something that will be the same on school buses across all districts this year-- masks.

Federal law mandates that students wear them on-board, because buses fall under “public transportation.

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