The Youngstown City School District has been trying for years to overcome a shortage of both buses and bus drivers.
State law requires each district to transport "all eligible students to the district, community, or chartered nonpublic schools where they are enrolled."

Data from the Ohio Department of Education show the district out of compliance with state law a total of 65 days this past school year.
Now, in the face of ever-tightening purse strings and scrounging for qualified drivers, the state is slapping the district with a $2 million withholding penalty.

"So that's a pretty big hit," said YCSD superintendent Jeremy Batchelor. "We already spend more than that anyway on transportation."

Batchelor told 21 News the district gets about $4.9 million dollars a year from the state for transportation.
He then explained how COVID made the existing driver shortage even worse.
He also stressed why the district's compliance record isn't an apples to apples comparison, but rather a symptom of a problem many urban districts face.

"We are transporting to 36 buildings when we run 14, so that's a challenge," he said. "You know, I've talked to the other superintendents around the state, there are other creative ways but urbans usually get hit the hardest because we do have to transport our friends in the parochials and pub(lic school)s and our charter schools which we gladly do by law, but it does create somewhat of a burden for us."

Which means that now, Batchelor and the school board have to find a way to fill the busing gaps and fill a two million dollar hole in next year's budget.

"We go above and beyond and provide what we consider 'Cadillac' service," said Batchelor. "There are some things that we don't necessarily have to do in terms of transportation, so all options are on the table."

For some parents and families - including Batchelor himself - the only option may be taking matters into their own hands for now.

When we asked him what his message is to parents who have called frustrated about either the lack of buses or bus drivers available, he replied "Just know we're working as hard as we can. This is not from a lack of trying. It has impacted my own family. My two nieces are students in the district and many days I've had to bring them to school."

At a special school board meeting Thursday night, we couldn't get much insight about what board members plan to do to offset that $2 million withholding. A couple of them told us they haven't had a chance to dig into the numbers just yet, so they couldn't offer any comment.

When it comes to the possible options for the district to transport students outside of normal busing, Batchelor told 21 News in the past, the district has outsourced certain routes to third party or private services, so that could be a possibility. There's also the possibility of using public transit for some of the older students.