Ohio school districts are struggling with a school bus driver shortage as educational year begins
School districts are starting this year with 17,000 fewer people working in K-12 education in Ohio than in the year before the pandemic, and there’s a continuing problem with a shortage of the workers who get kids to school each day.
As retirements and resignations dramatically dropped the number of full-time school bus drivers over the last year, most districts adjusted their bus routes, said Doug Palmer with the Ohio School Boards Association.
But there’s a new problem, as Palmer said, "Less routes are uncovered than last fall, but they are much shorter on their substitutes. They do not have drivers to cover when there's no driver in the regular driver's seat for that day."
Palmer said districts are using other transportation staff and mechanics as bus drivers, doubling up on routes, and even starting school a little earlier to give buses trying to handle more pickups more time.
Drivers with commercial licenses are in demand, so Palmer said the competition from Amazon, UPS and even snowplows at the Ohio Department of Transportation is fierce, but there are also some other delays.
“There's very strict background checks that school districts have to run on these individuals so they know who the individual is behind the wheel of that bus," Palmer said. "The BCI and FBI background checks, there's been some delays there, but there's also been some backlogs in the actual skills testing area for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles testing facilities. Drivers are having a hard time getting through that backlog.”
Since Ohio law requires public schools to transport all eligible students — their own as well as private and charter school students — Palmer said, Ohio does more bus service than any other state.
It is part of several challenges schools districts are facing in the new year. There are still thousands of open teaching positions in schools around the state. The Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said student enrollment is down 2% but staffing levels are off by 6%.
Around the U.S., 300,000 teachers and staff who were in schools at the start of the pandemic have quit. That's a 3% drop in the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.