Bowling Green City Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci is optimistic that bus routes could return to the 1-mile pick-up radius before January.
For years the district has picked up students who live within 1 mile of their school, but the district has had to extend that to 2 miles due to a bus driver shortage.
Ohio Revised Code does not require students in grades 9-12 to be bused.
“We’re optimistic that we could be back by January, if not sooner,” Scruci said at Tuesday’s board of education meeting. “Whenever we get to that number that makes it possible to get back to that 1 mile, we’re going to go back to the 1 mile as soon as possible. If that happens at the end of September, then at the end of September we’re going back to 1 mile.”
A call went out for new drivers and there has been a response.
“We had 20 routes last year. The minimum number is 18,” Scruci said.”We are definitely moving in a positive direction. I don’t know if it’s because people all of a sudden realize that there’s a need, but we have eight people coming on as trainees, and if we can get all of them, we would be full plus substitutes.”
He told the board that some of the applicants already have all the necessary certifications, but others do not. All of the applicants would need to be fingerprinted, background checked and drug tested.
The shortage was so severe earlier this summer that Scruci was not sure the 2 mile radius could be maintained. There is a minimum of 14 full-time drivers to maintain the 2-mile radius.
A former driver is returning. Another driver is being hired as a substitute, that with scheduled additional training will become full time. There is also a third driver who has been medically cleared to return to work.
Staffing was so severe at the end of the last school year that two routes were eliminated, on a rolling basis, with parents required to find alternate methods of getting their kids to school.
Scruci outlined their last-ditch efforts to maintain the service, by using five staff members who have other jobs with the district and also have the required certifications.
“The five people are Toby (Snow, the transportation director), the two mechanics, his secretary and our courier. Those are the five who covered the routes last year. But I’ve got two mechanics, they’re supposed to be working on buses. They are not supposed to be driving. The transportation director is supposed to be organizing it. The secretary is supposed to be there when, you, as a parent, call and ask ‘Where’s my kid? You dropped my kid off, right?’”
He said that at the end of last year they ran a bare bones operation. Drivers retired, relocated and one was on medical leave.
“All of a sudden, we went from a 20-driver fleet to 14, and these guys were picking it up, and we were canceling two routes a day. Now that is illegal. If someone had pushed that issue, we would have been found non-compliant, and that could cost anywhere roughly from $8,000 per day,” Scruci said.
That led to the extension from 1 mile to the 2-mile radius for the current school year.
“If you don’t have drivers, you are non-compliant, and we couldn’t continue that,” Scruci said.