By Dedra Cordle
The South-Western City Schools transportation department is experiencing a staffing shortage.
At the Jan. 25 board of education meeting, Transportation Supervisor Tim Cox said during his annual report that the number of bus drivers on hand do not meet the number of drivers in years past.
“This has been a rough year,” he said.
According to the numbers in his report, there are currently 180 full-time bus drivers, 48 bus aides, 17 substitute drivers and 13 substitute bus aides.
While those numbers may seem robust, said Monte Detterman, the district’s director of business services, they do fall well short of the healthy staffing levels they like to see.
“There is always a need for drivers,” he said, “but in a typical year, we have 184 full-time bus drivers and between 25 and 30 substitute bus drivers.
“We know that those numbers are not always feasible or reasonable, but that is where we have been for the past couple of years.”
The staffing shortage, he went on to add, is not just being felt at the district.
“It is all over,” said Detterman. “Every industry that needs CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) drivers are experiencing a shortage. I think this is a trend that will continue well into the future.”
He said the department is currently recruiting to shore up its numbers but said it may take some time to fill the vacant positions.
“This is not a job where we can hire someone today and then they start driving tomorrow,” Detterman said. “There is a lengthy and involved process, even for the people who currently have their CDL certification.
“They have to undergo drug testing, get physicals and do so many hours of training with instructors on school bus procedures. When you add everything up, the hiring process can take up to six weeks just to get through the required training to be able to drive students.”
He said not only is the district looking for people who can meet those state standards, but they are also looking for candidates who show care and compassion toward children.
“They are the frontline people,” he said. “They are the first person the students see when going to school and they are the last person the students see when they are going home.
They have to have good interactions with children and really be a caring and compassionate presence.”
He said that those interested in being a bus driver, whether it is in a full-time capacity or as a substitute driver, can contact the transportation services directly through the district’s website or visit the employment page at the district’s website, www.swcsd.us.
Detterman and Cox both said that while there is currently a staffing shortage, they do not expect delays in bus routes.
“Our drivers are doing a fantastic job and they will continue to get kids to school on time and drop them back home on time too,” said Detterman.
In other transportation news, the department was recently named a recipient of a Diesel Mitigation Trust Fund Grant that will replace 23 buses over the next three years. According to Detterman, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grant will cover 22.5 percent of the cost of the bus replacement, which amounts to roughly $518,811.
Detterman said they will replace the older and less environmentally-friendly bus models in their fleet.
“The buses that we use can range anywhere between $65,000 to $115,000 per bus so while this grant will not cover the entire cost it will help offset some of the expenses, which is great.”