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CPS faces bus driver shortage for second year

Chicago Public Schools is facing another shortage of bus drivers with less than a month remaining before students return from the summer break.

At a Chicago Board of Education meeting on July 28, CPS top brass revealed plans to address the shortage that left thousands of CPS students without transportation during the first week of school in 2021. Today, students with disabilities remain a concern.

CPS students go back to school August 22 to start the 2022-2023 year. To handle the shortage, CPS will provide free Chicago Transit Authority passes to general education students who are unable to receive school bus transportation in the new school year, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at the July 28 meeting.

School officials did not release details on how CPS students will receive the fare cards.

The Chicago Board of Education approved a policy that gives students who live in temporary living situations a monthly $500 monthly stipend if they decline to use bus transportation. But parents and Chicago Teachers Union advocates say the stipend, which comes out to $25 a day isn’t enough.

One CPS teacher, Alice Costas, said families are being “pressured” to accept the “absolutely inadequate” payments. She said at her school, students with disabilities often need to be accompanied by an adult. She also said they may require specialized equipment, which cannot be provided in a Lyft.

Costas said last year stipends failed to get many students to school. On several occasions when they rode the bus, Costas said it was inconsistent. She said drivers were “shuffled in and out” and scrambled to learn students’ critical needs.

“Imagine your child sitting at the end of the day for two hours in a coat and they can’t unzip themselves, they can’t adjust their tracheostomy tubes, they can’t really express their needs, and there’s a single adult scrambling to provide for them and all their needs,” Costas said.

Martinez said more than 15,000 families are eligible to receive bus transportation services. About 80 percent of students who live less than an hour each way would ride the school bus. Martinez said some parents may see longer route times and may opt for alternative transportation.

In June, the board approved a $677,500 contract with Christopher Toczycki, Inc., in Lake Forest for student transportation consulting services through June 2023.

“CPS continues to adapt its transportation services amid a national bus driver shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The contract renewal for Christopher Toczycki will be additive to our current transportation services for students,” CPS said in a statement last month about the renewal of Toczycki’s contract.

CPS officials hope to avoid a repeat of last year when in-person classes returned after the first year in the pandemic. About 2,100 students did not have a ride to school when school started on August 20, 2021. The next month, the district was short 500 drivers.

Families were offered $1,000 to cover transportation. At one point, as many as 3,300 students were stranded without bus service as students with special needs were considered a priority.

An annual report from the CPS Office of Inspector General revealed that the district had spent millions in good-faith payments to bus companies as they continued with layoffs, contributing to the ongoing transportation shortages.

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