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INDIANAPOLIS — Washington Township Schools is asking parents to be patient as they deal with high volumes of bus driver absences.

On Tuesday, Washington Township Schools sent parents an update about the transportation department.

The update came after the school experienced significant delays in transportation due to a large number of bus drivers who called off work. The school said they experienced even more delays in the afternoon when even more drivers called off work.

The issues come after the district announced during the last school year that a complete overhaul of its routing system was needed to create efficiencies regardless of school hours.

“Unfortunately, the work done prior to the start of the school year did not result in optimal efficiencies, leading to the frustration of families and school building personnel,” said Nikki C. Woodson, superintendent of Washington Township Schools.

Among the changes the district made involved having specialists work with the Transportation Department to improve the timing of the routes and balancing the number of students on buses.

The district says while these changes have already impacted bus stop times in August, more changes are in the way in the coming weeks.

“We realize changes to bus stop times and locations can be extremely frustrating for families after the school year has started, but unfortunately these changes are necessary at this time due to the number of students on buses, times and routing efficiency improvements that are needed as well as significant shortage in bus drivers that we are experiencing,” Woodson said.

The bus driver shortage isn’t new. In 2021, President of the Indiana State School Bus Driver Association Ron Chew said the shortage was already occurring prior to the pandemic hitting. Chew says too few candidates are interested. 

“It takes a special person to get behind that wheel every day,” Chew said. “It takes a very special person to be a school bus driver, in fact. We can say what’s required as far as the classroom training, the driving and all this, but it still takes a special person to do this. Therein lies part of the problem I suppose…”

Some of the inherent stress of the job — an expert like Assistant Professor in Business Economics & Public Policy at the Kelley School of Business Professor Andrew Butters argues — is part of the reason the job is viewed as less desirable.

“This is not a type of job that we can just sort of easily transition people in and out of that sector. That’s gonna obviously take some time and I think there’s still certainly several parts of the labor market that are still fearful of contracting the virus depending on the type of activity in the bus where you’re just gonna have lots of face-to-face interaction with the kids,” Butters said.

In September, Washington Township Schools plans to host an informational session focused on transportation. They also plan to continue collaboration with consultants on routing and hear from transportation staff.

The district is also hiring for several positions within its Transportation Department. This includes:

  • One dispatcher
  • One receptionist
  • One assistant garage supervisor
  • One vehicle technician specialist
  • 18 bus drivers
  • 10 bus aides

Pay for bus drivers and assistants starts at $25.65 an hour. The district is also offering an incentive package, loyalty stipends and bonuses for attendance.

While the district acknowledges that it has been a rough start to the school year from a transportation perspective, school officials ask parents to be patient with them.

They will provide updates on a bus stop or bus number changes through ParentsSquare. The district encourages people to check the app regularly.

Justin Kollar contributed to this report