3 more school bus drivers quit on the eve of RCSD’s first day of school

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Another round of bus drivers left the private companies hired to take city students to school.

School starts Thursday in Rochester.

There are 317 children without a bus ride and more than 584 who have to walk to school.

And if students at five high schools — Edison Career & Technology High School, Leadership Academy for Young Men, Northwest Junior High at Douglass, Northeast College High School and Rochester Early College International High School — can’t arrange a ride to school tomorrow, they have to log on remotely.

The city school district is responsible for bussing 31,000 students and 99% will have a bus Thursday morning, but every day more drivers leave the private companies contracted to pick them up and drop them off.

At an emergency school board meeting Wednesday, the superintendent of city schools says there are 317 students without a bus and 584 children who have to talk to school because they live within a mile and a half of the front door.

Cynthia Elliott, VP Rochester School Board: "So that’s the total. So we’re talking about 584."

Dr. Lesli Myers-Small, RCSD Superintendent: "584 walkers, yes."

Elliott: "And then we’re talking about 317 that we still need to get transportation."

Myers-Small: "Correct."

Elliott: "But we’ve got around 31,000 students that do have transportation."

Myers-Small: "That we do provide transportation."

The district has what it calls a transportation interruption learning plan in case more but drivers leave that’s basically students taking a class from home.

Elliott: "You talked about your transportation interruption learning plan."

Myers-Small: "Yeah."

Elliott: "Is that solely for the 317 students?"

Myers-Small: "Yes."

Elliott: "Alright."

There is a bus driver shortage everywhere including the suburbs and the other big cities in New York but it’s only the Rochester City School District that can’t bus every child.

Van White: "President of Rochester School Board: I think there’s a sizeable portion of our population that wants to understand — why Rochester?"

The answer is complicated. On top of its own students, RCSD is obligated to bus to charter schools, private schools, plus urban-suburban students and out-of-district students who come to the city for special education and language classes.

Myers-Small: "So that’s an additional layer that Buffalo, Syracuse, Yonkers, etc. don’t have."

Suburban schools are so much smaller they can plug some of these gaps.

317 students is roughly 1% of the 31,000 students RCSD is required to bus.

The bus drivers leaving the job now work for First Student and Monroe Transportation. They are private companies and they have not talked to us.

Brean: "Why do you think so many school bus drivers are leaving the job?"

Dave Christopher, NY Association for Pupil Transportation: "Well I think the current situation is driven by the COVID pandemic."

Christopher runs the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. He says many of the school bus drivers are older and may feel more susceptible to getting sick.

Christopher: "This driver shortage issue is not new. it’s worsened by the pandemic of course, but this is something the industry has been dealing with for several years."

In a survey by the association two years ago, school bus companies listed the top reasons why drivers leave.

They were:

  • The commercial license.
  • The hours.
  • The rate of pay.

Brean: "One website, salary.com pinned the salary at around $34,000 in the Rochester area. Does that sound about right?"

Christopher: "That could be right, yeah."

In an email Wednesday, one former school bus driver told me it was a part-time job but she "started at 5:30 a.m. and got done at 6:45 p.m."

"This is why there is a driver shortage!" she wrote.

At the emergency school board meeting, Commissioner Beatriz LeBron said she met a driver who quit Tuesday.

LeBron: "They ended up resigning yesterday because transportation for their own child was impacted."

Commissioner LeBron said in the meeting Wednesday she wants an outside investigation into how we got into this position.