More than 1,200 diverse learners across Chicago Public Schools do not yet have bus transportation to get them to school, the district’s chief said Wednesday, while hundreds of other students currently are sitting on more than 90-minute rides to and from their schools each day.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the district’s student transportation capacity is in a much better place than it was at this point last year. But with classes getting back in session this week, many students are still struggling to make their way to school.
“We are doing so much front-loading in terms of getting the students routed early, that it’s going to allow us to be more efficient throughout the year,” he told the Board of Education during its monthly meeting Wednesday. “Last year, we just got so far behind from the beginning, it was almost impossible to catch up.”
Monday marked the first day of the 2022-23 school year.
About 1,250 diverse learners — who receive special education services — have not yet been routed at all, though Martinez said half of those kids will be added to bus routes by next week. The remaining students will have bus routes by Labor Day, he said.
The average bus trip districtwide is 39 minutes and over 80% of rides are under an hour, according to Martinez, but 365 diverse learners currently have rides lasting more than 90 minutes each day.
The plan, he said, is to make sure all diverse learners have been routed before CPS begins working to shorten those hour-plus rides. But even with those efforts, Martinez does not believe the district will be able to get 100% of bus rides under an hour this school year.
“I want to be realistic,” he said. “I just don’t see that as a possibility, but we’re going to try.”
Those families left without a bus route will receive a prorated stipend to help cover daily transportation costs, Martinez said. While he couldn’t provide the number of general education students without bus routes, he said those families have been given free CTA bus passes.
Martinez blamed a nationwide bus driver shortage for the district’s issues, but noted there have been improvements this year compared to last, when some 3,000 students had no set busing until after the winter break.
CPS said it has had difficulty hiring drivers, though it has increased its pay wage up to $20 per hour, according to Board President Miguel del Valle, which he said matches the wages offered by suburban school districts.
CTU Financial Secretary Maria Moreno said it’s “wrong” for students to sit on a bus for as much as two hours. While she was encouraged by the pay raise for drivers, she said that amount is “still not enough.”
“You’ve addressed it, you’ve brought (the wages) up,” she said, “it’s still a problem that our students are having to endure.”