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'I'm surprised at the turnover' | Employee claims low morale and high turnover could be making DC bus driver shortage worse

OSSE is hiring private drivers to fill in the gaps by the shortage

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Class is back in session for school districts in our region but it hasn't been smooth sailing for everyone. Some kids in D.C. may be having trouble getting back to class on time. That's thanks to a nationwide shortage of bus drivers impacting the District as well.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Transportation Department has been hiring private drivers to pick up the slack, but we're learning even that isn't always working. One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, claims low morale and high turnover could be part of the problem.

The employee alleges a hostile work environment has led to a mass exodus.

“I’m surprised by the turnover at a government agency,” the employee said during a phone interview Tuesday. “It's at least one or two people leaving every other week if not being placed on leave or some sort of suspension."

The turnover rate is impacting OSSE’s Department of Transportation too.  On Friday, some of the 550 bus drivers on OSSE's staff rallied outside the building complaining of low morale, poor work conditions, and that they were unprepared for the school year. OSSE said ideally the agency should have 70 more drivers. 

But to fill in the gaps, they've hired contractors to drive 39 "private routes."  

A spokesperson said some drivers have incomplete bus routes as the agency waits on schools to submit applications, but those already on the transportation list are having their own issues. 

Tiata Kitt reached out to WUSA9 when her son's school bus didn't show up at 7:55 a.m. for the first day of school. They waited around and she eventually had to pay an Uber to get him to class.

"My son is on the spectrum and kids on the spectrum, they like consistency," said Kitt. 

WUSA9 followed up with the family on the second day of school and the bus showed up around 8:45 a.m., making 13-year-old Zakiriya late again. Mom said she never got a call or text.

"They don't communicate with parents, they don't communicate with parent resource center,” Kitt explained. “Everybody points the finger at someone else and no one takes accountability for their actions and families like mine suffer and my son gets the brunt of it."

WUSA9 reached out to OSSE and a spokesperson said Zakiriya is assigned to one of those private routes. They say the pick-up time is 8:07 a.m. and the driver showed up at 8:09 a.m. yesterday and no one was there.

As far as Tuesday’s late bus, OSSE said the driver was 24 minutes behind because of traffic. A spokesperson now tells WUSA9 they're paying close attention to this route and the Kitt family. As for the employee, they hope by adding their voice to those at the bus rally leadership will listen and work to fix the problems. 

“We all want to work for OSSE,” they said. “We're all there for kids and it seems like employees and leadership are on a totally different page.”

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant said they are working around this nationwide shortage through hiring and attendance incentives. They are also launching a ride-tracking app to help better communicate with families.

Her full statement is as follows: 

Like 90 percent of school districts across the country, OSSE DOT continues to face a shortage of bus drivers despite aggressive hiring efforts, including signing bonuses up to $5,000 and hosting targeted hiring fairs. And, while we are deploying both near- and long-term strategies to provide timely transportation services to students and families, we know the shortage of bus drivers in the District will cause service delays for some families during the 2023-24 school year.  

Near-term strategies to serve our students include contracting with private transportation vendors to cover specific routes, offering attendance incentives to drivers and attendants, and providing self-transportation reimbursement to families. Longer-term strategies include the launch of our commercial driver’s license (CDL) academy to build a pipeline of bus drivers, working to improve route efficiency and continually working to strengthen workplace culture and our team’s management skills.  

To address questions and concerns associated with delayed routes, we also continue working to improve on our communications with families. We have hired additional support personnel to address high call volumes at the Parent Resource Center, and we have plans to release a new ride-tracking app, which we piloted this summer, in tiered stages to families throughout the coming months so they can track the location of their bus and student. 

We continue to receive transportation requests from schools, and we’re working on fulfilling those as they come in. We’ve started the 2023-24 school year with more than 98 percent of our buses running on time, and we strive to provide strong service to our students and families for the rest of the year.  

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