UTICA, N.Y. - The Utica City School District will not start implementing in-person hybrid learning next week as planned, due to a bus driver shortage.
According to district officials, Birnie Bus, the company that provides transportation for the Utica schools, says they don't have enough drivers for the increased number of routes required for social distancing on buses.
The district's hybrid plan was supposed to start with 127 bus routes to accommodate two cohorts of elementary students and right now, they only have 96 drivers. They are 31 drivers short.
Plus, the company does not have substitute drivers and they should have a 15% overage of substitute coverage or at least 19 drivers in addition to the 31 drivers they are currently short.
According to the company, they are 50 drivers short including the 31 bus routes that are not covered and the approximate 19 drivers necessary for adequate substitute coverage.
District superintendent, Bruce Karam says without the company's ability to fulfill their contractual obligations by ensuring the 127 drivers necessary to transport elementary students, along with a contingency plan for the required number of substitute drivers, the school district will not be able to begin their phased-in hybrid plan.
"It's disappointing," Karam said. "We were prepared, we've done everything we needed to do but the bus company did not have sufficient drivers in order to meet all the routes that are necessary to pick up the students and over 75% of our students are bused, so you're looking at between 4,000 to 5,000 students for elementary only."
Steven Falchi, administrative director of curriculum and instruction, says the bus company previously assured the district that they had enough drivers.
“This information is contrary to what company officials had told the district during planning meetings that were held throughout the summer and into September," Falchi said. "There were eight planning meetings with Birnie Bus since July. Throughout the summer, the number of bus drivers had steadily increased to well over 100 with 25 to 30 additional drivers on a call back list according to company management.”
Until the company can guarantee sufficient drivers to provide necessary transportation, Utica students will continue with remote instruction only.