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Schools paying parents to drive their own children due to shortage of bus drivers, rattled economy: report

As schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic many are facing shortages of personnel and materials for the classroom, according to a report. 

Economic activity has been slowed for months amid supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages. While many school districts have an abnormal amount of cash from pandemic stimulus funds, administrators say they are still struggling to find staffers and supplies. 

At EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware, bus drivers are in such short supply that parents are being offered $700 to drop and pick up their children this school year, according to the Washington Post.

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Aaron Bass, chief executive of EastSide said he is funneling his transportation budget to students’ families to offer them a stipend for driving and picking up their kids. Parents of about 155 students – out of roughly 500 — have signed up so far, the paper reported. 

“There’s a labor and inventory shortage at the same time we’re increasing enrollment and hiring,” said Bass. “We’ve been looking like crazy for everybody you can think of: janitors, cafeteria workers, psychologists, counselors, bus drivers. Even if you have all the money in the world, you can’t get what you need.”

“I wish I could use that money for buses, but I can’t because we don’t have drivers,” Bass added. “It’s one more economic ripple from the pandemic.”

A nationwide shortage of bus drivers is among the most urgent concerns of administrators this fall, they say, according to the Post. Shifts in the economy, including the rise in online shopping, have led to many districts having twice as many vacancies as normal. 

At the Educational Service Center of Lorain County in Ohio, school buses are having to pick up children in shifts, according to Superintendent Franco Gallo, who told the paper the ongoing shortage of bus drivers has gotten worse during the pandemic. 

“I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before,” he said. “Sometimes, if they’re really short-staffed — like if a bus driver calls out in the morning — schools are sending messages like, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to be able to pick up kids today.’”

Ohio’s Akron Public Schools is having students sit on buses two to a bench seat instead of three to promote social distancing. In doing so, bus capacity was decreased from 72 to 48 children.

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“I have to make up for that by putting more buses on the road,” William Andexler, the district’s transportation coordinator told the Washington Post. “But I can’t do that if we don’t have drivers.”

Washoe County School District in Nevada is offering new bus drivers $2,000 in bonuses. In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools is having mechanics and other employees pick up routes – as it hopes to hire 100 new drivers before school opens later this month.

Pittsburgh Public Schools is also delaying the return to the classroom by two weeks amid a need for more than 400 drivers, according to the paper. 

On Tuesday, Nichole Britt, a parent who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said she was informed via email that there would be no bus service — just one day before her child started 6th grade – due to a bus driver shortage.

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“I’m having to take some time off work and my husband is arranging to work from home in the afternoons so he can pick up,” said Britt, 44, who moved from Idaho in the spring. “We’re starting a new school year in a new school in a new state, and now here’s one more thing that wasn’t on our radar before.”

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