Island schools need bus drivers

Transportation departments ‘stretched thin’ as school year gets underway.

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Island schools and schools across the country are experiencing a shortage of transportation staff. — Gabrielle Mannino

Island schools are experiencing a shortage of bus staff, and are urgently looking to hire drivers and monitors for the school year.

In a letter to families, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea wrote that schools across the country are experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) are feeling the impact. “Consequently we are stretched very thin in our transportation department,” D’Andrea wrote in the letter. “Moreover, finding replacements or substitutes for drivers and monitors is extremely challenging.”

D’Andrea wrote that the school system is actively looking to recruit new drivers, but asked for parents’ patience and understanding if bus routes are negatively affected by the shortage.

“School administrators will make every effort to communicate to families when a bus route is running late or delayed,” he wrote.

In a separate phone conversation, D’Andrea told The Times it has been historically difficult to recruit qualified transportation staff on-Island due to the sheer fact of inaccessibility; but it’s not just bus drivers who are hard to find.

As a result of the struggle to find staff, D’Andrea said, there are some bus runs that are being combined, and drivers are doubling up their runs for the day to accommodate the different routes.

“So we have everything covered and things are going well, but we most definitely need some additional folks. Routes might be delayed, or we may have to have a driver run two runs if we are unable to have a run covered because someone was out,” D’Andrea explained.

“It’s always been something that’s been challenging, just by the fact that we are on an Island. It’s not only bus drivers that are often challenging to find, it’s teachers and other school staff, depending on the level of certifications we are looking to hire,” D’Andrea said.

But this year marks a significant increase in schools’ inability to find and train drivers and bus monitors specifically.

D’Andrea noted that many off-Island school districts are experiencing similar challenges, and the Department of Education has been in contact with schools to offer assistance in any way it can. “It seems to be a statewide, if not a nationwide challenge to find drivers,” D’Andrea said.

Things off-Island have gotten so bad that Gov. Charlie Baker has activated up to 250 National Guard members to assist the Massachusetts communities of Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn in driving buses to get kids to school, according to a statement from the administration. 

Right now, MVPS has about 40 employees in its transportation departments — enough to cover the runs, D’Andrea said, but with little to no wiggle room if a driver is out on vacation or on sick leave. “We don’t have any extra. We need to get some folks trained and ready,” he said.

D’Andrea said he can’t easily pinpoint the reason for the unprecedented shortage, although he suggested it could potentially be a confluence of COVID concerns, the current economic environment, and the training involved with bus driver roles.

But he stressed that other workforce sectors are experiencing staff shortages also; particularly restaurants, hospitality, and retail businesses.

Schools are considering offering incentives to transportation workers, although they are not offering any currently. “It’s something we are looking into,” D’Andrea said.

Despite the issue, D’Andrea said the safety of staff and students on Island school transportation is paramount, and that focus won’t change.

“I know it’s challenging, and we don’t want to inconvenience parents, but safety is always our priority, so we aren’t compromising that in any way,” he said.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe, just maybe, IF they considered hiring folks that have changed their lives for the better over a period of 20 years, they could work… after 20 years of doing a complete life change and i own a transportation company, i cant drive for the school because of a felony when i was young and dumb (21 years ago)
    There should be some way to extinguish something to help someone move forward and to be able to help the community… this encourages someone to continue to keep the good walk forward…
    my thoughts

    • Dolores– I am astounded that the authorities are so stupid as to not allow you to drive a school bus after all you have been through .
      Thank you for pointing this absurdity out.
      Good for you for turning your life around—
      Respect …

      • Albert– I agree with your premise. But the word felony carries many different definitions. We don’t need to know what Dolores was convicted of, but she did something dumb 21 years ago when she was young. That could have been as simple as selling more than an ounce of marijuana to someone she thought was a friend, or neglected to declare some income on her tax return. When I was in my 20’s , I committed multiple felony offenses selling marijuana to pay my college tuition.
        All felons are not equal.
        Everyone deserves a chance– it seems she has overcome many obstacles to be where she is today.
        I have nothing but respect for her..
        And she came forward here, with her name– That takes guts.

  2. I am a previous bus driver who really enjoyed working for the school. It made it difficult to make a living at it though. We were on the clock from 6 0r 7am until 4pm but not getting paid after our runs. Sometimes due to half days and added field trips through out the day, we would have to commit to be on call and go back and forth based on the need. What really didnt work for me financially was not getting paid for all the time off due to vacations, holidays and weather days off. I think , in order to attract good licensed reliable drivers (like myself) the school commitee would need to come up with a more financially feesible pay scale in order to get the help they need. I would still be there driving if this was the case. It is difficult for housing as we know but if the school committee would treat the drivers in the same respect as all school employees. They are professionals as well. It takes alot of training and on going annual training to do the job. Especially to navigate the narrow areas of the island. I am lucky that I found a really decent job and the employer treats me so well. I do miss driving bus though. I will keep my license active just in case I have an opportunity to drive in the future.

  3. There is no shortage of bus drivers, just bus driver pay.
    A family of four can not live on the Island on a school bus driver’s pay, even if they drive tour busses all summer long.
    America has 100% employment.
    But not 100% pay.

  4. oK there is a problem here–
    it needs a solution–
    is there only one solution? — get more qualified bus drivers ?
    yeah, it’s tough to find people who know how to handle and are licensed to drive a full sized school bus, and are willing to accept a marginal wage. — note the comment from Vicki.
    On the first day of school last week , I noticed that traffic from parents dropping off their kids at the W.T school backed traffic up to near the DR Fisher road.
    I understand that— parents are concerned about covid, and they just like taking their kids to school.
    But it begs the question as to how many kids are actually on these buses, and if a full sized bus is necessary in this environment .
    Certainly, some routes could be serviced by a van that has perhaps 12 or 16 seats..
    The drivers of those vans might not need the same certification that is required to drive a full sized bus.
    I don’t know about all the rules, but the idea that kids can only be transported to school in a full sized bus or by their parents in the current environment seems ludicrous at best.

  5. john krowski I am a retired school bus driver on MV. The best solution is to have VTA take over school transportation. THey have the expertise and experience which school administrators lack. We are fortunate to have the VTA, which most towns lack. It is a perfect fit. VTA is slow during school season and would not have to lay off drivers. Also older kids could get VTA passes. The schools would probably still have to deal with special ed students. VTA currently does all bus maintenance. Just a thought.

    • I am sure there would be complications but this suggestion by Mr. Krowski needs serious consideration. School bus transportation on the island used to be provided by a private company (Island Transport) which at least understood the basics of a transportation company. School officials should not be required to do so. The VTA already does the bus maintenance and knows the intricacies of all island routes.

  6. It’s a great job for someone who is self employed and needs benefits. A couple of hours in the early morning and a couple in the afternoon. Weekends and summer’s off. Average of $31 an hour with full benefits including health , dental and pension for only 20 hours a week.

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