PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WJW)   A shortage of qualified bus drivers continues to pose a major challenge for school districts across Northeast Ohio.

In the Riverside Local School District in Lake County’s Painesville Township, a number of employees are taking on the role of bus driver, in addition to their daily duties.

Christine Illner, the transportation director for the Riverside Schools, is running bus routes before and after school while handling her administrative duties in between the routes.

“Long days for me, and we have a teacher, he’s a 9th grade English teacher, he drives every morning and every afternoon for us. We have a secretary at our middle school that drives every morning and every afternoon for us,” said Illner.

The shortage of bus drivers began during the pandemic and finding candidates that are qualified and want to do the job remains a major challenge in districts across Ohio and the country.

“I don’t know if they don’t think that they can do it or they’re afraid, I don’t know, I don’t understand why we’re so short on drivers, really I don’t,” said Illner.

Riverside Schools and districts across Northeast Ohio are hoping that a series of training programs will help create a new pool of qualified bus drivers.

The certification classes are being offered in various locations by the Ashtabula County Educational Service Center.

Driver candidates must first register for the classes with the school district they plan to work for.

“You have to have a BCI/FBI background check and then you have to obtain your temporary CDL. You have to have a physical. At the end of that class, you have take a test. Once you pass that, you then have to train with our on board instructor,” said Illner.

As they try to cope with the driver shortage, administrators and supervisors say it’s vital that they maintain high standards for hiring new drivers.

“You are the first person students see in the morning and sometimes you’re the last person they see at night, so it’s very important to have good, qualified people,” said Illner.