Some area school districts are suffering shortages in school bus drivers, with the number of needed drivers ranging from just a few in Avon and Westlake to about 18 in North Ridgeville.
The result: Students arriving home later, longer school bus trips in some cases and officials scrambling to find drivers to take teams to athletic events. However, school districts report few parental complaints.
“It’s pretty much a problem across the state and almost universal in Lorain County,” said North Ridgeville City Schools Superintendent Roxann Ramsey-Caserio.
Bus driver shortages across the state are so significant that Gov. Mike DeWine made the Ohio National Guard available to districts needing help. In Northeast Ohio, the Euclid and Painesville Township school districts have asked the state for help.
Meanwhile other Westshore districts are not experiencing any problems. Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and the Sheffield-Sheffield Lake City Schools report no shortages.
Locally, North Ridgeville schools seem to be the hardest hit. The district normally would have about 60 drivers, but that number sits at 47 or 48, Ramsey-Caserio said. About half of the district’s 4,300 students in grades K-12, ride buses to and from school.
In some instances, drivers are making double runs, meaning they make one trip from a school building to homes, turn around and make another run from the same school building, Ramsey-Caserio said.
Students on second runs can spend 15 to 20 minutes waiting for their ride home, said Matt Yunker, district director of operations. All students are staff supervised during waiting times, he said.
“It’s not ideal getting kids home later,” Ramsey-Caserio said. “Unfortunately, it’s what we have to do sometimes at this point.”
Rutledge and Yunker said parents seem largely understanding.
“That’s been one good thing,” he added.
What caused the shortage of drivers in Ridgeville and elsewhere? School officials said large numbers of drives retired when schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some drivers are fearful of returning to work because of the virus.
“We had a number of people resign or retire at the end of last year,” said David Leigh, North Olmsted City Schools director of transportation.
The district has 32 drivers, down about six from previous years.
“We have not been able to replace those positions for this year due to people simply not applying for the job,” Leigh added.
When brief delays occur, they are not due to a shortage of drivers but result from construction projects and road closures around the city, said North Olmsted City Schools spokesperson Amy Rutledge. But that is normal for this time of year.
“Our transportation department has been great making adjustments when necessary,” Rutledge said. “Our families have been very supportive.”
The North Olmsted district serves about 3,600 students, with 1,600 riding school buses. Leigh noted bus drivers also handle anywhere from 20 to 25 athletic events weekly.
Olmsted bus drivers earn approximately $20 per hour. That number is roughly the same for beginning drivers in Ridgeville.
The Avon Local School District is shy about two drivers, needing 33. Three drivers are on leave and the district is using four substitute drivers. Six drivers are in training. The district should be in a better position regarding drivers by November, Superintendent Ben Hodge said.
The district’s biggest problem seems to be transporting students to and from athletic events. Director of Operations Bill Fishleigh has stepped in and gotten behind the wheel of a bus.
The district normally has about 30 drivers. The schools are using 11 substitute drivers, but all have other jobs so they are not necessarily reliable, officials reported. They have one driver in training. The district pays between $22 and approximately $30 per hour. District route times are the same as before the pandemic, but departure times for student athletes are being pushed back because of staffing issues.
Meanwhile Avon schools reported having no significant delays picking up or dropping off students. The district has 4,700 students, with about 2,500 riding buses. Avon bus drivers earn about $20 hourly, roughly the same as in Ridgeville and North Olmsted.
Westlake City Schools do not seem to be suffering from a driver shortage, though officials report driver numbers are at a “tipping point.”
The district normally uses 39 drivers and five substitute drivers. It has 44 drivers with two in training. Westlake drivers earn approximately $18 to $27 per hour with benefits for both part-time and full-time employees.
The district reported only three or four instances of 15- to 20-minute delays of bus routes. Westlake schools have 3,300 students, 2,400 of whom take the bus.
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West Life reporters Molly Heideman and Madison MacArthur contributed to this story.