A Staffing Shortage

NCCS is among districts seeking bus drivers

The+buses+of+North+Canton+City+Schools+line+up+outside+Hoover+High+School+after+the+school+day.+NCCS%2C+like+many+districts%2C+is+experiencing+a+staffing+shortage.+

Zoe Yatras

The buses of North Canton City Schools line up outside Hoover High School after the school day. NCCS, like many districts, is experiencing a staffing shortage.

Isis Durkin , Copy Editor

North Canton City Schools have struggled to find substitute bus drivers for years, and it is only getting worse. To combat this problem, the district administration has taken steps to create incentives for prospective bus drivers.
As director of the North Canton City Schools Business Operations, Mr. Todd Henne is in charge of all non-instructional areas of the school district. His department oversees transportation as well as more than 300 classified employees, which includes any employees holding positions that do not require education certificates. Henne explained the prevalence of the issue of employing substitutes over the years.
“Every year it gets to be more and more difficult to find people that want to be school bus drivers,” he said.
Mrs. Kelly Clay works as an out-of-district route bus driver for North Canton City Schools. She detailed the three-month-long training that is necessary to become a bus driver.
“To become a bus driver you have to go through an extensive amount of training,” Clay said. “You first need to get a CDL driver’s license. You then take a week-long pre-service class.”
Their training extends into North Canton as well.
“Once you have completed and passed the class you go through training with North Canton’s [On Board Instructor],” Clay said.
Henne agreed that the training period is extensive and added that it is unpaid, which could be a reason why the job is unpopular.
“With other jobs, you get hired, you start working and making money immediately,” he said. “To be a school bus driver, you have to pay a lot of money out of pocket, and then train for 2-4 weeks. One does not earn money during this time, and that is often a financial burden that people cannot afford, so they choose something else.”
This issue is not specific to North Canton City Schools; in fact, it is becoming a problem nationwide.
“Most school districts in Stark County raised sub wages on everything from substitute teachers to the non-teaching subs,” Henne said.
According to an October 13 article from “Education Week,” a nationally representative survey conducted by their research center found that 77 percent of district officials have said they struggled to hire a sufficient number of substitutes. Additionally, they reported that COVID-19 has been making the situation worse.
“In many places, teachers are out more frequently than usual because they’ve been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 and must quarantine, or because their own children have to quarantine,” the article stated.
“Education Week” also expressed the demographic of people who typically take on jobs as substitutes and how that has affected the number of people applying for those positions.
“Many substitutes are retired teachers who may be at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications,” it stated. “They may not feel comfortable returning to school buildings amid the ongoing pandemic. Some district leaders have said they’re having an especially hard time finding substitutes for elementary schools, since those students are all unvaccinated [at time of publication].”
Henne added he sees a similar issue concerning COVID-19 in North Canton.
“[Because of COVID-19,] no one wants to work once or twice a week as a sub when there are so many good paying jobs available,” he said.
Recently, the North Canton City School District has decided to implement raises for substitutes to incentivize people to start applying.
“We are now paying sub bus drivers $17.70 per hour,” Henne said. “We were paying $14.50 prior to the increase.”
School districts around Stark County have slowly been raising wages for substitute positions. In turn, this has created intense competition between schools, all trying to hire from a small pool of applicants.
“We are competing for a limited number of workers, and for many the money determines where they go to work,” Henne said.
Clay agreed that the competition is fierce.
“The topic of the district raising wages for substitutes can be a touchy subject,” she said. “I do however feel it is necessary, with all the other districts feeling the effects of not having enough drivers you have to keep up with the competition.”
Keeping the school running is the business department and district’s ultimate goal.
“[Raising the wage] was a necessary thing to do for safety reasons,” Henne said. “We still continue to have many positions unfilled each day in our buildings, and that is a safety issue.”
So far, Henne said there has not been any additional interest in bus driver sub positions, but he believes the wage increase will eventually be beneficial.
“The school district has a limited number of dollars, so any added expense has an impact,” he said. “But the cost of not raising the wages would be greater in my opinion.”