Vermont superintendent gets behind wheel amid bus driver shortage

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 5:41 PM EST
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WAITSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - While schools across Vermont struggle to fill bus driver jobs, some district officials are taking matters into their own hands.

Harwood Unified Union Schools Superintendent Michael Leichliter is looking to acquire his commercial driver’s license to play backup for school bus drivers, at least when needed.

“If I can drive a route and get students to school and not have to close down schools or inconvenience parents with consolidating routes,” Leichliter said.

Leichliter is looking to be a team player in the district, trading his office some mornings for a school bus.

“There are going to be two substitutes, including myself,” he said.

The district currently has exactly enough drivers. So he and a principal in the district will play backup once he gains his CDL.

“I’m just starting to learn now so I have not started the on-the-road training,” he said.

Leichliter says this obviously isn’t a long-term solution but it can help.

Meanwhile, districts across Vermont are looking everywhere for drivers to fill their needs.

“If you know anyone that wants to learn to drive a school bus, please contact our contractor, Mountain Transit,” says a voice message that goes out to the Essex Westford School District whenever they announce route cancellations due to the shortage.

According to Student Transportation of America, at least six districts are looking for drivers.

“The shortage of drivers is a national problem, it’s not just a Vermont issue,” said Patrick McManamon, the education supervisor with the Vermont DMV, who oversees the state’s school bus program.

The state runs clinics that deal with Vermont law around school buses and drivers are required to complete that course before getting behind the wheel of a school bus.

“Believe it or not, school bus law and laws surrounding school buses can be confusing for some people,” McManamon said.

He says the training and courses are critical to safety but they are time-consuming.

While those aren’t going anywhere, there are other areas he thinks could change to help fill vacant driver seats.

“What I do see changing for drivers are benefits that are available for drivers,” McManamon said.

He says pay and hour adjustments could make a difference. But his courses are filling back up and he anticipates roughly 700-800 people will complete the course in the coming year, both renewals and new drivers.

Back in Waitsfield, Leichliter says while he takes on the courses, he hopes others will consider helping, too.

“Any parent or any community member that is interested, we would love to have more drivers,” he said.

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