Vermont still struggling to find school bus drivers

HYDE PARK, Vt. (WCAX) It's an issue that affects any family in Vermont with a child who uses a bus to get to school-- the shortage of bus drivers around the state.

It has forced some districts to make difficult decisions about which routes stay and which go.

Our Cat Viglienzoni went to Hyde Park, a community which has already felt the shortage hit home. Three roads in Hyde Park have been discontinued from the Lamoille North Supervisory Union's coverage. Five others in Johnson were also cut. The reason-- not a shortage of money but manpower.

"I have six kids that are in school riding the school bus. The youngest one is is only a first-grader," said Eliza Giard of Hyde Park.

Mother of seven Giard got a shock this summer when her school district told her her road was canceled from the bus route.

"So they weren't coming to the house to pick up the kids anymore," Giard said.

She says she was concerned about their safety and the weather. So she called the district which was able to add her road back on.

"I'm very, very happy and thankful that they were able to get it all worked out," Giard said.

"In that situation, there was an easy fix. That's not how it always is," said Catherine Gallagher, the superintendent of the Lamoille North Supervisory Union.

Gallagher says they want to provide transportation to every student. The money is in the budget for it. But the bus company that serves their district, Lamoille Valley Transportation, doesn't have enough drivers to do all the routes. So they had to make changes.

"This is not a static situation. It's dynamic; things can change. In the event that we are able to find more drivers, we will increase our routes," Gallagher said.

But finding those drivers is where the wheels on the bus stop going round and round. Because the company says it needs at least four more drivers to eke by. And when their efforts to get the word out can't even produce one candidate, it's discouraging.

"It does not look like the problem is going to get better anytime soon," said Deb Clark, the business manager of the Lamoille North Supervisory Union.

Clark says they're starting to talk with their legal department about how they could create other arrangements and see if other school staff could fit into the bus driver schedule.

"We need to start thinking out of the box to attract drivers," Clark said.

For moms like Giard, the shortage also means their family has to watch and wait to see if next year, they face challenges again.

"It does concern me because I didn't even know it was a possibility until it happened this year that they could do that. That in the future they could say well, it really doesn't work and we're going to have to cut the road," Giard said.

When we asked why it's so difficult to get applicants, it comes down to a few things. First, it isn't an easy process to get the CDL license to drive a bus. You have to go through the same training as if you were driving a semi and training takes months. Also, it's part time and a split shift, not something that works well for everyone. But the company and school believe there are people who it would work well for, like local parents whose kids ride the bus-- yes, you can take them with you; retirees; or someone who may have free time in either the early morning or afternoon.

For more information about becoming a bus driver, contact Lamoille Valley Transportation at 802-888-2103 or email
Amy@lvt.org.