In a controversial move likely to inconvenience many Oberlin families, the Oberlin City School District is considering canceling the busing service provided to students who attend Lake Ridge Academy, a private school in North Ridgeville, Ohio.
Under Ohio law, the district is required to either provide transportation for parents who want to send their child to a non-district school within a 30-minute radius or provide payment in lieu of transportation if the district decides offering the service would be “impractical.” Oberlin currently transports 14 students to Lake Ridge Academy each day and buses 15 back.
At an Oberlin City School Board meeting Jan. 24, Oberlin City Schools Superintendent David Hall suggested that the district could save about $33,000 by canceling the busing services. However, some parents questioned that number, as the school would not re any bus drivers with the change.
At the same meeting, Hall recommended that the board pursue payment in lieu of direct transportation, stating that it costs more than twice as much per student to transport students to Lake Ridge than to provide payment. Many parents were aggravated with the proposed changes in the busing system, stressing that the move would be unviable for many families currently sending their children to the private school.
“They expressed frustration from paying taxes to the district and not getting any consideration; they threatened that discontinuation could result in mass exodus of some of the community’s larger taxpayers,” said Anne Schaum, president of the Oberlin City School Board of Education.
Jessa New, a local resident with children in both Oberlin City Schools and Lake Ridge, expressed her outrage and opposition to the changes in an interview with the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
“I will get angry, and you will lose the support of a community member like myself,” New said in the interview.
Many other parents shared frustration that kids in the district cannot get to school on time due to the shortage of drivers and the complicated busing system. They also raised concerns about the catastrophic impact on schedule fluctuations could cause for some special-need students in the area.
Despite polarized opinions in the district, administrators and board members have been hearing voices from both sides of the issue and they say are actively trying to take community members’ ideas into account.
“One idea offered to me by a resident was to have the districts that bus their kids to JVS also bring their private school kids on that bus,” Schaum said.“ The private school kids could then transfer to a single bus from the community closest to the private school and get dropped o on the way back rather than driving an empty bus. I don’t know if that is a viable solution, but it is the kind of thinking I think we need to explore.”
Keystone Local Schools Superintendent Franco Gallo stressed that the issue is less about costs for parents or potential savings and more about a severe lack of bus drivers.
“ e struggle is the lack of bus drivers,” Gallo said. “We have a limited amount of substitute drivers. We are willing to train if necessary, but we still struggle to be fully sta ed. I know this is something many districts are facing.”
Hall is actively looking for more drivers and has offered to assist in training or certifying internal candidates. Although the shortage of bus drivers has been a statewide issue, Oberlin has been hit particularly hard as it recently lost three bus drivers to Amherst school district, which officers better benefits and more hours.
“Oberlin can’t officer benefits that some larger districts can officer since our routes are not very long,” Schaum said.
“It’s so hard to get bus drivers to drive,” said Doug Randleman, an Oberlin City Schools bus driver, in an interview with the Oberlin News-Tribune. “Especially for Oberlin schools.”
Oberlin City Schools currently employ nine bus drivers who drive 400 students each day. They work between 17 to 25 hours each week and receive no health benefits. Bus driving is considered a part-time position, and most drivers — depending on experience — can expect to make between $15 to $25 hourly.
Recently, members of the board have reached out to Ohio Governor John Kasich to ask for increased flexibility in transportation funding. at request has so far gone unanswered.
Oberlin City Schools administrators and board members are continuing to try to untangle this convoluted issue, which affects many Oberlin students and their access to education.
“As far as an ideal resolution, I’m not sure that anything short of a magic wand would leave all parties satisfied,” Schaum said.