SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ A shortage of school bus drivers in South Bend in the final weeks of the school year is causing some students to be more than an hour late getting to and from school and has forced some transportation office staff members to cover routes.
South Bend Community School Corp. spokeswoman Sue Coney said 22 of the district’s 200 bus routes lacked regular coverage in a recent week. She blames a high absenteeism rate and a shortage of substitute drivers.
Bus drivers acknowledged that absenteeism is an issue and told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1HH9V02 ) that low morale is largely to blame.
Debra Ward, a 15-year driver with the district and president of the drivers’ union, said drivers are frustrated by what they perceive as disrespect from management and a culture of favoritism.
“We’ve stressed how important it is to be at work because our job is to get students to and from school,” Ward said. “But when you’re mistreated on a daily basis, you just come and go through the motions.”
Superintendent Carole Schmidt said she is aware of complaints from drivers and parents and is aiming for significant improvements before school resumes in August. The district is interviewing for a new transportation director to replace Mike Nolen, who Conley said is retiring at the end of the school year. Classes end June 11.
Conley said the district is spreading the word that it is hiring drivers but notes that it takes time to get people trained and in place.
South Bend could have some competition for drivers. Both Elkhart and Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. schools are hiring.
Penn-Harris-Madison has all current routes covered and doesn’t expect a shortage. But Associate Superintendent Denise Seger noted that the district raised the starting pay for its drivers last year to help with retention.
“When we spend all this time training, we want to retain,” she said.
Elkhart Community Schools is also hiring drivers after voters approved a transportation referendum last year that will allow the district to offer busing to more students.