School bus driver shortage widespread

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont has been facing a school bus driver shortage for years, but labor issues resulting from the pandemic have made it worse than ever. The Essex Westford district has been forced to combine two routes, but it leaves some students on the bus for over an hour.

“If we can’t provide transportation to kids who absolutely need it, we will be restricting access to a free, public education,” said Brian Donahue, the chief operating officer for the Essex Westford School District.

He says the district began the year down four bus drivers and they just lost a fifth. And with almost 1,500 students registered for transportation, they are at maximum capacity and can not consolidate any more routes. “We’re not putting together the product that we want to deliver to our kids and to our families, but we are trying to put together an option for a safe route to school if there are no other options,” he said.

Some parents who would typically choose the bus are opting for the long drop-off and pick-up lines instead. “I drop my kid off because he doesn’t always enjoy the bus and the bus takes too long for him to get to school,” said Maria Beckett, an Essex parent.

“The bus stops are not near our house,” said Brianna Yarnell, another parent

The bus comes at 6:53 in the morning -- it’s way too early,” added parent Sarah Peake. “By dropping them off, they gain an hour each morning. So, they gain five hours of their week.”

Stories like this are playing out across our region and beyond. In Massachusetts, the shortage is so acute, some National Guard members are becoming bus drivers to help.

“This is not even an isolated Boston-Vermont issue, this is a United States of America issue. Our problems are way better than what you see in some of the southern, southeast states, and some of the midwest states,” Donahue said.

The shortage has been ongoing, but COVID has made it worse. According to a national survey, 79% of the respondents in the Northeast say they have altered transportation because of COVID. And just over half of those taking part in the survey call their shortage “severe.”

Donahue says to attract more drivers, the job needs to offer a livable wage and the CDL and certification process needs to be easy. “We can’t just count on the good nature of our retirees. Teachers, historically, have been someone, but schedules and student demands and everything else doesn’t really make that possible any longer,” he said.

Donahue says his district works closely with their bus contractor to offer a higher wage for bus drivers and bus aids. Anyone interested should contact: Jamie Smith, EWSD Transportation Manager; Email: Phone: (802) 857-7037

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School districts deal with perennial shortage of bus drivers

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