SULLIVAN, Ohio (WJW) – School districts across Northeast Ohio are grappling with a shortage of school bus drivers, caused in part by the intense competition for qualified workers in so many sectors of the economy.
On Thursday afternoon at the Black River School District bus garage, superintendent Chris Clark and transportation director Bruce Berry unfurled a “help wanted” banner and attached it to the side of one of the district’s yellow buses, seeking applicants for unfilled positions.
Black River is in dire need of qualified bus drivers to cover routes straddling Ashland, Medina and Lorain counties.
“There’s a lot of things causing it. I think it’s the responsibility that comes along with driving a school bus, driving other people’s kids around, behaviors that they have to face,” said Berry.
As a result of the manpower shortage, Black River is now in a bidding war with other districts to attract drivers who are certified and have their commercial driver’s license.
“There’s an awful lot of jobs out there where someone can, instead of driving a bus at $20 an hour, might be able to go somewhere and drive for $40 an hour,” Clark told FOX 8.
The shortage of bus drivers is so severe that in some cases, transportation directors and other district employees are being pressed into service, especially when a driver calls in sick.
“I don’t usually do that unless I’m in the bus as well, so we just make it work. We make it work, you know, with the resources that we have,” said Berry.
The Black River Schools would normally have a pool of five or six substitute drivers, but during the pandemic, two of them decided to quit and several others were recruited by other school districts that were willing to pay more money.
Administrators say one of the short-term solutions to the manpower shortage is combining bus routes, which can be an unpleasant experience for students and drivers.
“We encompass almost 115 square miles so we have students on the bus for almost an hour, an hour and 20 minutes, so what it’ll do if we have to double a bus route up, there’s a potential that a kid could be on a bus for almost two hours,” said Clark.
A long term solution to the shortage is offering more competitive wages, but smaller rural districts say they simply don’t have the resources to compete with large districts for drivers.