Unit 4 superintendent willing to consider ‘drastic’ measures to address ongoing bus driver shortage
Champaign schools faced another semester of transportation issues impacting local students and families.
Stacey Moore, the chief communications officer of Champaign Unit 4, said the district is still struggling to hire enough school bus drivers.
“Providing safe transportation continues to be a top priority for our district,” Moore said in an email. “But like many districts across the country, we continue to face major challenges with filling bus driver positions.”
At a school board meeting on Dec. 11, the Unit 4 board discussed the ongoing issue, as well as its Transportation Reimbursement Program, created earlier this year to help solve the shortage.
The program, which was approved by the board in January, reimburses families who remove their children from the Unit 4 bus system and provide their own transportation.
The reimbursement program works by encouraging more families to drive their children to school. This way, school buses can be more reliable for those who rely on them.
Sheila Boozer, Unit 4 superintendent, said Monday the program was created to relieve pressure on the district’s transportation department and remove some of the routes Unit 4 drivers are taking.
At the meeting, though, some board members expressed dissatisfaction with the program because it has not had much of an impact in reducing the number of bus routes.
“It’s taken some students off the route, but it doesn’t mean the routes are… not running.” Boozer said. “We still have a transportation issue.”
When considering transportation solutions last year, Boozer said the district created the Transportation Reimbursement Program during discussions about the Student Assignment Process (SAP), which modified the School of Choice program to decrease segregation and close achievement gaps across Unit 4 schools.
Boozer said the issues Unit 4 is facing are impacting education overall, and it may be time to “do something drastic.” She did not elaborate on what those measures might include.
Heather Vazquez, Unit 4 School Board parliamentarian, suggested Boozer and the board consider revisiting the SAP once again.
“At this point, we are disrupting education, and as you [Boozer] aptly said earlier, this is about the kids,” Vasquez said. “The evidence is strong that the model we were working on is not working … I don’t think we have another school year to wait.”
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) has maintained a long-running partnership with Unit 4 and Urbana School District 116 to provide transportation for middle and high school students.
Karl Gnadt, the managing director of C-U MTD, said this issue extends beyond USD116 and Unit 4 to all of Champaign-Urbana, the UIUC campus and Savoy.
“We don't have operators that just serve campus, or just serve the community,” Gnadt said. “They all do everything, so it's district wide. But beyond that, it's not just the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District that is struggling with this. This is a nationwide problem within the transit industry.”
Bus driver shortages, Gnadt said, have impacted the industry for years. C-U MTD has made progress in filling positions but continues to struggle with bus driver shortages.
Boozer said she and the Unit 4 board will not rest until they find a solution to the problems the district is facing.
“I don’t have any more answers. I need help. We need help,” Boozer said. “This is not a Unit 4 [issue], per se, it’s a ‘we’ issue.”
Illinois Student Newsroom's Elissa Eaton contributed reporting.