YOUNGSTOWN — During his March update, Youngstown City School District CEO Justin Jennings said part of the district's windfall from the federal coronavirus aid package would be used to purchase 20 new school buses.
On March 10, Mahoning Matters reported the buses were expected to arrive in October.
Six months later — as expected — they have yet to arrive. But, after the first couple of days of school, the district doesn't appear to yet have a concrete plan for getting all kids to school on time until the fleet is supplemented.
A shortage of buses left district students waiting hours to be picked up Tuesday morning. 27 WKBN-TV reported some children weren't picked up on Tuesday until 9:30 a.m., more than three hours after scheduled pick-up times. The delays persisted on Wednesday, said some parents turning to social media to air complaints.
Since the district also provides transportation for parochial and charter schools, some students outside the district were also affected. Due to COVID-19 precautions for social distancing, fewer students are able to safely fit on each bus.
"It’s still an issue we’re dealing with and we’re working to fix it," district spokesperson Denise Dick said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, 15 of the district's 83-bus fleet were down — either in need of repair or awaiting inspection. On Wednesday, three of those were back on the road.
The district asked an outside provider to supply 12 additional buses, but it was only able to provide three.
"I can't say it's their fault," she said. "They just weren't able to provide as many buses as we needed."
Dick refused to identify the provider. The district has not yet responded to Mahoning Matters' public records request for the contract.
This isn't the first time the district has struggled to provide transportation to students.
In 2016, the Ohio Department of Education reviewed the district's transportation department and found incomplete driver and vehicle maintenance records, nonexistent vehicle repair records and no documentation of required bus driver training, Dick then reported for The Vindicator.
Even then, the problems weren't new.
“The Youngstown City School District’s transportation issues go back several years,” ODE spokesperson Brittany Halpin said at the time. “The department conducts regular desk audits for driver compliance. Irregularities were identified through those reviews in 2012 and during 2015 where significant missing documentation was identified. Throughout the years, the department worked with the district to correct any issues, however, more continued to arise as others were fixed.”
In the short term, the district is working to get its entire fleet back on the road. It's also utilizing vans and shuttles and having bus drivers double up on routes. The second purchase of about 20 additional buses is expected to arrive this spring.
"We apologize for the inconvenience and just respectfully ask for people's patience," Dick said.
If your child's bus doesn't show up, parents can call the district's transportation office at 330-744-5905.