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Charlottesville students able to make it to school despite bus driver shortage

With Charlottesville not able to transport all students who want to ride on the school bus, officials have worried that would negatively affect attendance. Those fears have not materialized, according to data presented Thursday.

Overall, about 92.8% of students attended school from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18, when the data was collected. Among students assigned to a bus, 90.1% attended school and 94.4% of those who didn’t request transportation as well as those on the waitlist did so.

The 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, about 96% of students attended on a daily basis.

Officials said that the attendance rate was likely lower for students assigned to a bus because of quarantines related to possible exposure of COVID-19. The data was collected during the height of the recent surge in cases.

Kim Powell, the division’s associate superintendent for finance and operations, added that some students were quarantined because of possible exposure while riding the school bus, which affected the data.

“Keep in mind that students who were prioritized for the bus are students who need that extra support to get to school and sometimes those students have other reasons for not getting to school,” Powell said.

So far, 1,654 students have been assigned to a bus seat, which is a slight increase from the data presented at the School Board’s October meeting but below the 2,200 students who relied on bus service during the 2019-20 school year. Powell added that the waitlist is “in the 700s.”

For students who don’t have a bus seat, community groups and school staff have worked to ensure they have a way to get to school.

“I just want to say that overall from a statistical standpoint, the attendance numbers are affirming, and I think that drawing conclusions and inferences, we can certainly attribute that as a testament to our dedicated staff and dedicated community,” said Pat Cuomo, the division’s director of technology.

Currently, Charlottesville has 11 bus drivers and three relief drivers, according to data provided by the city. The school division pays the city’s transit department to transport its students. Six drivers with Charlottesville Area Transit are assisting with the effort to students to and from school.

The city is continuing to recruit drivers with a goal of hiring at least 30 people.

Powell said that 30 drivers would eliminate the waitlist.

“That’s important for us to ultimately be able to get back to providing that for everyone who wants it, but it’s not necessarily impacting their ability to access their education and attend school regularly,” she said.

New bus drivers in Charlottesville can receive a $2,400 bonus while Albemarle drivers can get an extra $2,500. The shortage of bus drivers has affected school systems throughout the state and country.

“Driver recruitment efforts continue,” Powell said. “They have not let up on that at all.”

Since August, the city has interviewed and extended officers to 13 people, two of whom have completed the training and are driving bus routes. Four others are working through the physical and background check process to start training and another two are currently in training. Finally, two people are set to start classroom training Nov. 8.

A commercial driver’s license with an S endorsement is required to become a bus driver. Free training is provided to those without a CDL, but that training and licensure process takes several weeks.

One issue that could complicate the city’s hiring timeline is the required physicals.

CAT current uses WorkMed for pre-employment physicals, but that company has said that it will not schedule any more physicals until after Jan. 1, 2022.

“This means that we will more than likely lose the four individuals we recently hired,” transit director Garland Williams wrote in a report to the board.

Powell said that the city is working on the issue and that it could be resolved in the next week.

“We don’t need any more obstacles in our path,” she said.


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