Gary schools still throttled by busing problems – Chicago Tribune

School bus service for nearly 4,400 Gary students is an unreliable hodge-podge of contracted buses, independent drivers and an occasional van driven by a church pastor.

“The busing is absolutely unacceptable,” said Paige McNulty, operations manager of the Gary Community School Corp., at last week’s state Distressed Unit Appeal Board meeting.

Difficulties transporting students to school has hurt the district’s attendance rate, now at 81%, according to a school official.

Gary resident Tracy Coleman voiced concern about buses being unable to pick up children. She said the district has been downsized in recent years leaving just one high school. It’s located on the far west side of the city.

As the district lost enrollment and fell into financial struggles, schools were closed. That led to the demise of neighborhood schools that children could walk to and created a maze of bus routes crisscrossing the city.

Now, it’s been amplified further by a nationwide school bus driver shortage.

Last year, the district inked a three-year $2.8 million contract with Illinois Central Bus. Co., the lone bidder.

Most Northwest Indiana districts own and operate their own bus fleets. Since at least the 1980s, Gary has contracted out bus service.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the shortage of bus drivers, making districts hike pay for qualified drivers amid a shrinking pool.

Coleman suggested school officials begin a driver’s education class at the Gary Area Career Center so students could obtain credentials to drive buses after they graduate.

“There’s an urgency to grow our own bus drivers,” she said.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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