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.