Valley News – Hartford, others find it difficult to keep school buses in service
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – An ongoing shortage of school bus drivers in the Upper Valley has resulted in a bumpy ride for many students, families and educators to start the new school year, including late arrivals to school, students who waiting after school to go home and drivers covering several routes.
The Hartford School District currently lacks at least three drivers to adequately cover the district’s routes, according to Steve Landon of Butler’s Bus Service, a private contractor who provides school buses and drivers to districts in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Four routes in Hartford still do not have a regular driver, including one at Ottauquechee School, one at White River School and two at Hartford High School.
Some drivers in Hartford cover two routes, running the unassigned route after completing their own. As a result, second pass students have approximately a 30 minute wait for their morning pickup and return home. Second race students frequently arrive at school after their class has started, according to members of the Hartford school board, who discussed the bus situation with Landon, principal of Butler’s White River Jct. place, during their ordinary Wednesday meeting.
Several schools in the Upper Valley region are facing shortages similar to those in Hartford, Landon told the council.
The Landon branch, which has served Hartford for eight years, handles 104 morning and afternoon rides daily for the Vermont and New Hampshire districts.
“We haven’t faced a driver shortage impact like in other areas until the past couple of years,” Landon said.
While the pandemic has contributed to the shortage, prompting many drivers nearing retirement to leave the workforce, Landon said the age of would-be drivers in recent years has shifted sharply towards younger people, typically in their 30s. .
“It changed because the salaries changed,” Landon said. “With the wages we pay, more drivers can live off it.”
Hartford’s current situation stemmed from the loss of four of its regular drivers in August, Landon said, saying such a sudden loss would have a “staggering” impact on a district’s services, given the current shortage. of drivers and the time required for a driver to be certified.
“Even though I have a new candidate in our pipeline to get hired in Vermont, that process takes 45 to 90 days,” Landon said. “So if you lose a bus driver, it’s not like I have another one to plug into your route.”
Luckily for Hartford families, the district will have two new drivers on Monday, and a third by Oct. 10, Landon said, by which time Hartford drivers will be “full” and all bus routes will be running outside. scheduled time.
But Landon warned there will still be a “serious” driver shortage in the area.
“If I have a driver who calls in sick, I don’t have anyone else to put in their place,” Landon told the board. “We have 160 employees on our site and I could use 220 and probably not enough yet. So we will be full, but I will not swim in additional bus drivers.
The Mascoma Valley Regional School District, which also uses bus service from Butler to White River Junction, had some “missed” routes this year because the regular driver called in sick and there was no no designated replacement to cover the route, according to Mascoma Superintendent Amanda. Isabella. Students often had to wait for a driver to be available to cover the route.
“Some of our children arrive at school a few hours late” in these situations, Isabelle said.
Assigning drivers to unfamiliar routes can also pose a safety risk, Landon said, explaining why Butler tried to avoid altering a driver’s usual route.
“Drivers need to understand who their kids are, where they live and where the stops are,” Landon said. “So the threat of us losing another driver due to mistake is very high. And I don’t want that to happen.
On Friday, Sept. 3, a Hartford middle school student injured her foot while departing the school bus on Route 4. According to Hartford Police Sgt. Daniel Solomita, who led the investigation, the bus driver, who was employed by Butler’s, “continued his route prematurely” while the student was still leaving the bus.
According to the Valley News, the driver told police he believed the student was completely off the bus at the time and was checking his mirrors to see that the other children were seated at the time of the crash. incident, Solomita said.
Butler’s is currently campaigning to recruit new drivers, offering incentives including a $3,000 signing bonus and paid training.
In a letter to the Hartford community, school board chairman Kevin Coach Christie said drivers in the Hartford district are working an average of 20 to 24 hours a week, or four hours a day, at “a minimum rate $20 an hour.
Drivers typically work two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, although drivers can rack up paid overtime by driving for field trips, sporting events or special school trips, the letter said.
Hartford Superintendent Tom DeBalsi said some Hartford teachers and paraprofessionals serve as district bus drivers.
“It works very well [for them]”, DeBalsi said. “They save on their own transport [to and from school], they go out on the field. It’s a great location for the bus company and for us.
Isabelle said Mascoma has two teachers and a paraprofessional who are certified bus drivers, but noted that the certification process in New Hampshire is “pretty cumbersome” and “incredibly lengthy and lengthy.”
Hartford council members have indicated interest in future discussion on strategies to minimize the impact of driver shortages, such as changing the school start time to reduce the number of late arrivals students.
DeBalsi also suggested the possibility of staggering each school’s start and exit times to allow drivers to cover multiple routes, if necessary, without impacting student arrivals or departures.
“It’s drastic and maybe not popular, but for getting kids to school it could be helpful,” DeBalsi said. “We are so short that even if we are full, we will have a break.”
Landon noted that some school districts across the country have staggered school starts, including Springfield in Vermont, which helps ease bus traffic congestion and could free up drivers to cover a route in an emergency.
People in the Upper Valley who want to become certified bus drivers can contact Butler’s Bus Service at 802-788-4322.
Patrick Adrian can be contacted at email@example.com.