Vermont faces bus driver shortage as school year starts

Getting kids to and from school, sports, and field trips safely; are some of the many duties of school bus drivers who are now back in full swing.
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 7:56 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - Getting kids to and from school, sports and field trips safely are some of the many duties of school bus drivers who are now back in full swing moving kids around.

But despite the start of the new school year, bus driver shortages persist in areas around Vermont.

In the Essex Westford School District, they’re starting the school year short by five bus drivers.

“We also have virtually no trip drivers for our athletic events and field trips,” said Jamie Smith, the transportation coordinator for the Essex Westford School District.

Smith says other than school to dropoff routes, they will be prioritizing high school sporting event transportation in the afternoon. He says they’ll have to schedule field trips for different times of day in order to do it all.

Last school year, there were times when entire routes would rotate cancellations due to shortages. This year, Smith says they’ve expanded their routes so that won’t happen as long as they don’t lose drivers.

“We’d like to have every student be on the bus for 50 minutes or less. In this system, we have some trips that are an hour-and-a-half or longer,” said Smith.

EWSD isn’t alone in looking for drivers. In the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, three spots are open for the position that’s always been tough to fill.

“We prioritize getting students to school and getting students home from school, but when that happens, and we have shortages, it means we can’t necessarily send out as many field trips as we want to it impacts extracurriculars,” said Kristin Hubert, the superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union.

Hubert says they’ve been hitting all their routes but they have to schedule field trips based on need.

“For instance, this museum trip is critical to second grade, so they just plan out well in advance,” said Hubert

Driver shortages in Vermont have been persisting for years but since the pandemic hit, bus driver Diane Barrow has a theory.

“We have a lot of older drivers, experienced drivers that have been here forever and you know, once COVID hit, they disappeared. So it’s hard to get those drivers,” said Barrow with Mountain Transit.

Others say there can be some hurdles in deciding to do the gig like a written test and driving test, and with hours that might not be conducive to everyone’s schedule.

But there are incentives to help get drivers on the road. Mountain Transit offers paid training to get someone a commercial driver’s license.

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