AKRON, Ohio — The nationwide bus driver shortage is hitting close to home for school districts in Northeast Ohio. At Akron Public Schools, thousands of students were impacted Monday when a driver deficit, combined with drivers calling off sick, caused delays in morning pick-ups.
More delays are expected Tuesday, too, after the district sent an update Monday evening. While they didn't cancel any routes, the district said busses 433, 447, 466, 467, and 569 would again experience delays. In addition, it is "possible" Nos. 462 and 495 could also be late.
According to the district, 72 buses currently cover more than 200 daily routes for the city's public, charter, and parochial schools. Williamson said those interested in driving buses for the district can visit the district home page for more information on applying.
APS has been dealing with labor shortages in the district since the beginning of the school year.
“The nationwide labor issues that everybody knows about by now have affected public schools, probably all schools, but public schools, pretty dramatically,” said Mark Williamson, Director of Marketing Communications for Akron Public Schools. “We’ve had shortages of subs, teachers, tutors, educational assistants and bus drivers.”
Williamson said ideally, they would start the school year with around 100 drivers. This year, he said they’ve been operating at a deficit of about a dozen to two dozen drivers. While they are currently looking to hire drivers, Williamson said the process can be a long one.
“Bus drivers take a long time to hire. They don’t just walk in and you hire them, they have to go through training, and some need to get a CDL,” he said. “It can take weeks from the time that we find somebody that we want to the time they can actually start driving a bus with kids on it. It’s a slower process.”
Additionally, Williamson said with so many districts facing shortages, it’s a competitive field to get drivers on board.
To adapt, the district consolidated routes from somewhere around 100 to about 70. However, when about a dozen more drivers called off work over the weekend ahead of the school day Monday, the district had to consolidate even more.
“The transportation director sat down and consolidated more routes,” he said. “And in doing that, the reality came to be that we knew some of the drivers were just going to be late. It’s just math.”
According to a release from Akron Public Schools, buses 466, 447, 569, 433, 467, 454, 462, 495, and 554 were impacted on Monday morning. Williamson said on average, those impacted buses were about 20 to 45 minutes late.
“When we started the day today, we were down about a dozen, that’s on top of the normal deficit of about 12 to 15 to 20 drivers,” he said.
With upcoming days off planned for the holidays, plus cases of COVID-19, the challenge continues. Williamson said five drivers currently have COVID-19, and those who have COVID have to stay off work for at least 10 days.
Williamson said if more drivers call off, they may need to make more changes.
“By tomorrow if we have too many more overnight tonight, early tomorrow morning, we may have to cancel some routes, and that’s not something we want to do,” he said.