ROANOKE, Va. – The Roanoke City school bus situation is getting better, but school leaders admit they're not all the way there yet.
This after six weeks into school and some parents are still feeling pain from buses being late or not showing up at all. School board members got an update on the problems at their work session Tuesday night. They made it clear this remains one of their top priorities.
They want someone from Durham Transportation, the outside vendor responsible for buses, at every one of their meetings going forward until this is sorted out. There is an improvement plan in place, but many parents say now, six weeks into school, the grace period is over and someone needs to be held responsible.
A small handful of parents attended the work session to voice their displeasure with the situation, one coming prepared with a white board to write her responses to what board members said. There are others who did not attend the meeting who are still upset, too, like Sarah Jones.
"I have three boys in three schools, three different buses, it's just chaotic because I don't know when they're getting dropped off, when they're getting picked up," Jones said.
Deputy Superintendent Dan Lyons gave an update to the school board on the improvement plan based on his conversations with Durham that morning. He said there are still about 10 routes that need to be filled, and that bus mechanics and other qualified office staff are driving daily to fill the gaps.
"No one ever really imagined that the shortage of drivers was going to be as great as it is," Lyons said.
Superintendent Dr. Rita Bishop reminded people that the school had many of the same issues, although not to this extent, when they hired the previous transportation provider originally, drawing similarities to her current leg injury said that time helps heal the wounds.
But drivers have told 10 News in the past that working with Durham has been anything but easy. They cited issues with paychecks, timing, bus equipment and more as some reasons. Many were afraid to share their name with us, fearing they'd lose their job for speaking out.
Lyons said the company is offering sign-on and referral bonuses as incentives to get more drivers on board and attending job fairs, as well as initiating a marketing blitz on social media. One board member asked if there was a date set for Durham to have the problems fixed and Lyons said he did not want to set one.
"I think we should continue to get better every day and as we continue to get better daily we'll be in a good spot. The sooner the better, but I don't think now is the time to draw a line in the sand," Lyons said.
The school division said there are 16 drivers in the training process, with about half of those ready to hit the road in the next few weeks. They also said there are daily conference calls and meetings with school administrators on the problem, but parents like Jones said someone needs to be held accountable.
"It's a safety issue, you leave your kids standing out on the street corner and you're waiting for something bad to happen," Jones said. "Whether they could get hit by a car, whether they could get picked up by somebody, you just don't know."
The school division pointed to other schools across the country facing this same kind of issue, saying it's not unique to Roanoke City. They also said they're looking into what they could do to recruit drivers away from other schools in the area.