RCSD considering remote learning to start school year due to bus driver shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A nationwide bus driver shortage “crisis” is having an impact here in Rochester.

Due to the lack of bus drivers, Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small proposed Friday that high school students in grades 9 through 12 would begin the school year under a remote learning model to accommodate for the shortage.

Myers-Small said the hybrid model would not include students in specialized learning programs and Pre-K through 8th graders will return in person as planned. She also proposed pushing the school year start date back to September 9.

District officials said Thursday 70 bus drivers are needed, with less than a week away to the start of a new year. The superintendent’s proposal was announced during a special emergency meeting Friday:

The district released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the driver shortage impacts more than 30,000 students who use their transportation:

The Rochester City School District is experiencing a significant shortage of bus drivers with our providers, First Student and Monroe Transportation. As a result, there are not enough drivers to transport our students to and from school. Presently, there are 70 drivers needed to fulfill all RCSD routes.  In an effort to mitigate this issue, the District changed start and dismissal times at many of our elementary schools.  Because of the continued resignation of drivers, this has been an ever-changing issue and we are at a critical point with the first day of school rapidly approaching.  The District leadership team has been working tirelessly to reach a solution that will ensure high quality education for all of our scholars.

At this juncture, all options are being considered with the understanding that this shortage may continue to impact transporting our students.  We are meeting with various stakeholder groups today to share these options and will share the determination as soon as possible.

The Rochester City School District transports 31,000 students in public, private and parochial, charter, urban/suburban, and outside special education agencies in more than 110 different locations. The bus driver shortage is a national crisis, which is specifically affecting our community.

One school board member calls it a crisis. Beatriz Lebron went live on her personal Facebook page to address concerns, and warn parents.

“Before you all hear it from a robocall I want to make sure you know, if you are a parent in this district relying on transportation, there are going to be issues with transportation and it is going to be more than even Sept. 13,” said LeBron.

“The way they’re going to spin it, I’ll spin it for you now, is that if you have the ability to transport your student, transport your student. That way they can assess who has a need and how they can accommodate,” she said.

The district Board of Education released another statement later Thursday afternoon:

Nationally, school districts across our nation are facing a shortage of school bus drivers.  This shortage has a variety of causes, but it is beyond dispute that this situation has reached crisis proportions.

Many weeks ago, in anticipation of this shortage, Superintendent Myers-Small’s team, in conjunction with local bus contractors, devised a plan of altered routes and school start times to ensure that every child received transportation to and from school.

Notwithstanding that effort, within the last 48 hours, local transportation contractors informed the RCSD that they did not have the drivers to fulfill the commitments under the revised transportation plan.  Consequently, Superintendent Myers-Small and her team have been working around the clock to establish a revised transportation plan, which will address this additional shortage.

Dan Diclemente, president of the Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees (BENTE) union says a lot of reasons cause a shortage like this.

“The risks they have to take when it comes to COVID, putting their own health at risk to drive kids back and forth to school, the amount of hours they have to be available per day for what they’re getting paid,” he said.

He he’s been coming up with recruitment efforts for months: raising pay, sign-on bonuses and paid training. “We did settle our contract, it did increase starting pay rate, you know but it just got settled in August so they’re just putting that word out there.”


Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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