Statewide bus issue is discussed at board of education meeting

District releases violence, vandalism and substance abuse reports

Like much of the nation, the Black Horse Pike Regional School District has a shortage of bus workers.

During the Sept. 16 board of education meeting, Business Administrator and Board Secretary Frank Rizzo announced that the district still has funds from the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) II grant distributed in January, because its original plan to purchase new buses with those funds fell through.

“It took so long for that grant to be approved, that we used funds for our previous year’s budget,” he explained.

Though no formal action was taken, Rizzo wanted the board to know the plan for buying the new bus with the grant.

“Everyone knows that busing is an issue for a lot of school districts, so this bus will be paid for by the grant, and we’ll find a driver to do that,” Rizzo noted. “This should take a little bit of the heat off some of the events.”

In total, the school purchased four new buses and will be adding a fifth. Though the district has not been severely impacted by the bus driver shortage during regular school hours, Superintendent Dr. Brian Repici said it is more of an issue with after-school activities. Gloucester Township has a contract with First Student, a transportation company that at times has called at the last minute to say it doesn’t have a bus (or anyone to drive it) available.

Repici added that the district is encouraging people within the area to be trained as CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) certified by increasing hourly pay by up to $35 an hour, and is working with Gloucester Township Public Schools’ Superintendent John Bilodeau to arrange a shared-service agreement that would allow certified drivers to transport students at either district.

Repici acknowledged that part of the issue with trying to find bus drivers is the lengthy amount of time it takes for drivers to get certified, a process that involves both written and road tests.

“Sometimes they don’t schedule the road test until three, four, five months after you take the written test and pass it,” he said. “Nobody really wants to follow through with a six-to-eight month process to drive a school bus.”

Also during the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Julie Scully reviewed the 2020-2021 Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse reports.

“If you remember, we started off the year with students only coming in one day a week,” she said. “We increased it to two days, and by the end of the year, we were here five half-days.

“ … Even though this is a comparative chart, I do not believe these numbers can be compared to any other year because it wasn’t a normal year,” Scully added.

In the 2020-’21 school year, there were no instances of violence, two instances of vandalism, 10 instances of substance abuse, no weapon instances, one confirmed case of HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying), one alleged case of HIB, and four incidents leading to removal. Though the number of vandalism and weapons cases were comparatively small in the past three years, the number of violent incidents ranged from 41 to 55 cases, substance abuse ranged from 51 to 72, and other incidents leading to removal ranged from 138 to 348.

During board comments, board member Kevin McElroy relayed online praise for Timber Creek Regional High School’s 9/11 memorial and the way it acknowledged the contributions of average citizens.

“You included every single person who was involved at Ground Zero, all the way from 20 years ago until now,” he noted, adding that the veteran groups he shared that praise with were “extremely grateful.”

The next Black Horse Pike Regional School District Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m., at Timber Creek Regional High School.

See https://www.bhprsd.org/Page/371 for the most recent updates.