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What’s the solution to school bus driver shortage?

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The ongoing bus driver shortage could be a roadblock to getting your kids to school.

School districts are really struggling with so many pandemic issues including transportation, so now state officials are trying to assist the schools and help come up with solutions.

“We had a lot of difficulties finding bus drivers last year, but being down three is really concerning,” Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jeanne Collins said in July.

“We are willing to pay for all licensing fees, train you and pay you as you go,” RNESU Transportation Coordinator Rich Vigue said in August.

Some Vermont school districts are facing a busing emergency but it is not yet a statewide emergency, according to State Sen. Brian Campion, the chair of the Senate Committee on Education.

As part of COVID relief funding, schools received a large sum of federal money which can be used in addressing the driver shortage. But Campion doesn’t think money will solve everything.

“I’m not sure if this is going to end up being a financial issue. This is largely a workforce issue,” said Campion, D-Bennington County.

Campion believes Vermont Education Secretary Dan French and his team are looking at two primary options.

One is deploying the National Guard to drive students as Massachusetts has already done. But Campion says the greatest step French’s office could take is to make the licensing process as easy and efficient as possible.

“We’re not going to take any shortcuts here. Again, we want good people, this is a very, very important job,” Campion said.

In New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is requesting the Department of Education release guidance to schools explaining how they can use the federal money to pay and hire bus drivers.

“To some school representatives, this is new information and the governor is grateful that we raised this issue, so schools can look into how to apply for their resources,” said Gillibrand, D-New York.

Gillibrand says in New York, schools are reporting a driver shortage of 15%-20% this year.

She says using this funding will entice more drivers, ending their state’s shortage.

“If you can offer training as well as higher pay, you can get the new workers that you need,” Gillibrand said.

Back here in Vermont, Campion tells me since the Senate is not in session, it is looking to Secretary French and his team to deal with this issue. But if the committee is needed to address the problem, they are ready to return to Montpelier.

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