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OPS at a standstill in improving bus driver shortage and staff vacancies

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Trevis Sallis, the executive director of transportation services with Omaha Public Schools, speaks on the district-wide student transportation plan for the coming school year outside Gifford Park Elementary School in Omaha on Thursday, August 11, 2022.

Omaha Public School officials warned that the district’s staffing shortage hasn’t improved much since school started in August.

Superintendent Cheryl Logan told the school board on Thursday that there has been “a limited change” from last month’s meeting about staff vacancies.

“We have hired a number of substitutes and secondary elementary and special education teachers. Our largest number of folks we have hired are 212 paraprofessionals and we still need bus drivers, bus drivers, bus drivers,” Logan said. “The lack of bus drivers all over the country is severely impacting the ability of school districts, including ours.”

The focus of hiring transportation employees has been part of the district’s continuous push to hire classified staff.

OPS uses a mix of its own drivers and an outside vendor to cover all of the district’s bus routes.

Logan said bus routes managed by the vendor, Student Transportation of America, are 84% staffed. That is a notable drop from when the vendor had 93% of its routes staffed in mid-August.

“This has been a huge area of challenge, in terms of our contractor,” Logan said. “We want to continue to work with them, but we have been disappointed by the level of service that we have received.”

Route coverage by OPS drivers has improved over the last few weeks. Logan said OPS routes are 86% covered by a permanent driver while 95% are still on time daily. OPS routes were 83% staffed in an Aug. 11 update from district officials.

Logan said she is going to look into the 95% figure because she doesn’t know if it’s accurate.

“That does not reflect the anecdotal things that I have heard,” Logan said.

The district is still continuing to meet with Student Transportation of America, but Logan stressed the bus driver shortage is a national problem.

“While it doesn’t make me feel any better, it is not anything (local drivers) are doing,” Logan said. “It’s the model of when people are going to work and when folks are available for that type of work. Those folks aren’t available anymore.”

Board member Tracy Casady said anyone contemplating becoming a bus driver should know the impact on students “is incredible.”

“The first thing my daughter does when she gets home is tell me about her bus ride,” she said.

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