PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The start of the school year has bounced around but Pittsburgh Public Schools students will have their first day in class to start the year Friday. That’s much different from last year when they didn’t get into buildings until almost the end of the year.
Bus driver shortages forced the district to move around the start date until today’s date was reached. Parents expressed their frustrations with changing dates and the bussing situation. At one point 5,000 students were impacted. Now the district said the number is down to 294 without a seat.READ MORE: Study: Nearly 26,000 Kids Sit On Child Care Waitlists Across Pennsylvania
It was still dark in Highland Park when senior Tyrique Whitson waited for the bus.
“Being able to go back with my classmates, being able to just experience senior year in person, it’s really important to me,” the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy student said.
He’s one of the students using Port Authority buses to get to school.
“Even in the best of times, there is a driver shortage. This event has maybe been four to five years in the making as far as bus drivers. The pandemic has exacerbated that,” Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet said.
He rode the bus to Pittsburgh Sci-Tech with Whitson.
The embattled district leader is still dealing with the fallout of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission report concern his spending habits.
On Friday the Board of Education released this statement:
“The Pittsburgh Board of Public Education has read the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission Report following its release on the government agency’s website last Thursday, August 26. The entire Board takes this Report and its findings very seriously.
Currently, we are addressing with the District’s Solicitor the various issues presented in the Report. Its findings are indeed concerning and a distraction for the District as we commence the new school year. In the coming weeks, we will consider any appropriate actions to be taken, including addressing any internal control issues and other matters raised in the Report.
This is a serious matter, and the Board must give it the time it demands to assess the overall situation. The Board will have more to say at the conclusion of its evaluation.”READ MORE: 17-Year-Old Hospitalized After Penn Hills Shooting
“They didn’t find any intentional wrongdoing. So it vindicates me already and justified that I haven’t done anything wrong, intentionally wrong,” said Hamlet.
Elected leaders like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called the report “concerning.”
“Even before I got here in Pittsburgh there was a target on my back, so I don’t focus on that. I focus on the children and the job I need to do for the children,” Hamlet told reporters at Pittsburgh South Hills 6-8.
Inside the classroom, the Pittsburgh Promise and Richard King Mellon Foundation partnered with Day Owl to give out backpacks to 1,600 sixth graders. The hope is to get these students the tools for success.
“We were able to really kind of lay the groundwork, lay the seeds so they become familiar with the Promise and all the Promise does and how it’s really going to help them beyond their high school careers,” Pittsburgh Promise Board of Directors member Kiya Tomlin said.
Safety will still play a role for students and staff this year.
“Continue to wear my mask. I’m vaccinated so that’s one thing that’s going to help me in school,” Whitson said before catching his bus.
Dr. Hamlet feels the district and employee unions will work out a deal for everyone to be vaccinated or routinely tested.
In the meantime, District Transportation Manager Megan Payton said the district is finding creative ways to meet the needs.
“As we get additional drivers trained, the process is going to be a lot smoother moving forward than it might be the first couple weeks,” she said.MORE NEWS: FBI Pittsburgh Launches Campaign Urging People To Report Hate Crimes
This has forced other districts into bus problems. McKeesport is losing drivers to PPS and is now filing a breach of contract suit against its bus company.