Parents in the Utica City School District are beyond frustrated, as late buses and no-shows continue, forcing many to bring their children to school, and therefore be late for work. The school district shares their frustration and has given Birnie Bus Service an ultimatum.
"We're insisting that they step up and do a better job of straightening out all these problems first and foremost for the sake of the parents and the students. But also to improve communication with the parents because the other thing we're hearing is parents are unable to reach Birnie bus and we're unable to reach Bus, to be honest with you," says administrative director for curriculum & instruction, K-12, Steven Falchi.
Birnie Bus did not return NewsChannel 2's phone message, nor did they respond to a message left in person, at their Rome office, both last week. On Friday, however, their corporate owner, Krapf Bus, out of Pennsylvania, did respond to an inquiry. They began by apologizing to parents and students.
"First, we apologize to all those students and parents impacted by the current school bus route delays. We are working hard to both resolve the situation and also to better communicate with parents and school administrators about specific routes so they, at a minimum, can make appropriate decisions and plans," said VP of Risk Management, Shawn McGlinchey, in an email. "There is currently a critical shortage of qualified drivers affecting the school bus industry in the United States. This has been a persistent problem for many years, but has become acute during the current low unemployment environment."
McGlinchey also laid out multiple steps Birnie Bus is taking to address the qualified driver shortage: wage increases, in September and again in January; sign-on bonuses for qualified drivers; and aggressive hiring campaign, including lawn signs, flyers, online sites and veteran outreach. They also say they have 13 applicants currently in training to become school bus drivers.
In the meantime, the Utica City School District is going over options with their attorneys.
"We're paying them millions of dollars to provide basic transportation services for our kids and that's not happening. The service they are providing is more than unsatisfactory, so they're taking a look at the situation to see what other options the district may have," said Falchi.