COPLEY, Ohio — The school year is right around the corner. Yet, many of the problems districts faced last year are rolling back right into this fall.
Finding qualified bus drivers is a problem across the region. At Copley-Fairlawn City Schools, they have just enough to get by. But if drivers decide to quit before the school year begins, it could mean slashing service.
"How bad is it? It’s very bad. It’s very bad," explains Steve Robinson, business manager at Copley-Fairlawn City Schools. "Right now we’re able to cover all of our routes. We have no substitute drivers at all. We’re just trying to get word of mouth to let people know how serious the situation is. And how badly we need drivers."
Several districts are facing similar issues. Shaker Heights says its hard to compete with Amazon and other jobs that are paying more now. Cleveland Heights and Parma are also seeking applicants.
And down in Akron, despite slashing routes last year to deal with shortfalls, the district is again 10% short of its goal to have 80 drivers.
On top of that, fuel costs have doubled from $350,000 to $700,000 this year. The price for bus parts has also increased by 40%. That leaves less money to incentivize drivers to come on board.
"Right now, we provide service well above state minimums and we hope to keep providing that high level of service. At some point that may need to change," says Robinson.
But school districts aren't giving up on hiring more people. Many are offering training, and in some cases, increasing hours for workers. At the same time, they need the drivers they already have to stay on the job.
"We’re going under the assumption that we are going to have all of our drivers back that were with us last year," adds Robinson.