Oswego superintendent details challenges resulting from school bus driver shortage

Oswego School District 308 Superintendent John Sparlin spoke out recently amid concerns from families over a shortage of bus drivers and the resulting need to consolidated bus routes.

The district first alerted families to what officials described as an “extreme” shortage among its contractors in a letter just before the start of the school year, Aug. 18.

As a result of the shortage, the district has consolidated routes by extending and combining existing routes.

The shortage also led to a delay in the start of the school year for the district’s early childhood classes at Brokaw Early Learning Center at 1000 Fifth Street, Oswego; Prairie Point Elementary School, 3650 Grove Road, Oswego; Wolf’s Crossing Elementary School, 3015 South Eola Road, Aurora; and Long Beach, 67 Long Beach Road, Boulder Hill.

Early childhood classes will now begin on Monday, Aug. 30, however, the district’s deaf and hard of hearing program began as scheduled.

Sparlin detailed the problem and measures administrators are taking during a Board of Education meeting Monday evening, Aug. 23.

“When we found out, just before school was about to start, that our service providers were not going to be able to provide or cover the routes, our transportation department worked around the clock to collapse routes and do their best to make sure that we had transportation for the first day of school on Aug. 18,” Sparlin said. “They did an excellent job.”

Director of Communications and Public Relations Theresa Komitas said in an email that the shortage was not known to the district when routes were originally published.

“At the time we first published the routes this information was not known,” Komitas said. “Once this was communicated to the district, the routes were adjusted.”

Sparlin acknowledged delays in drop-offs of students on the first day of school, adding that district staff regrouped that night, making adjustments for the next day, leading to drop-offs that were “much better.”

Sparlin also addressed the delay in the start of the school year for early childhood students

“We will continue to communicate throughout the week, once we have those routes and packages all set to go,” he said.

As of Aug. 24, the district has 49 open positions in its transportation department: 32 drivers, nine monitors, six crossing guards, and one dispatcher and mechanic position each.

The openings for bus drivers stretch back to May 2020, along with calls for candidates age 21 or older with a high school diploma or equivalent. Other qualifications include: an exceptional driving record; the ability to pass a pre-employment physical, drug, alcohol, background, and TB test; the ability to handle emergency situations, evaluate and administer first aid in a timely manner; and the skills necessary to operate a school bus safely, communicate effectively and follow determined schedules.

Bus drivers are represented by the Oswego Transportation Association, the district’s union for transportation staff, and features three levels of compensation beginning at $18.36 an hour for new hires without a CDL/permit.

Bus monitors’ responsibilities include: assisting the driver with the safety, movement, management and care of students; learning and adapting to the medical, physical, communicative and emotional needs of students; serving as a role model by demonstrating positive attitude and self control; protecting the confidentiality of student records and information; securing students who use child safety restraint systems and serving as a crossing guard when needed.

Monitors must also be at least 21 years-old with a high school diploma or GED, and provide a certificate of good health signed by a licensed physician. The position is also represented by the OTA and has two levels of compensation: $12.24 an hour for new hires without experience, and $12.76 an hour for new hires with two or more years of previous experience.

Information about the changes to bus routes can be found under the district’s transportation department’s website through OSD 308.