Conn. bus driver shortage likely to impact another school year

The Connecticut School Transportation Association says members are still looking to fill 1,000 jobs just weeks before school starts.

WATERBURY, Conn. — Students across Connecticut are soaking up the final days of summer as the classroom bell rings in a matter of weeks.

Many school districts are beginning to release their bus routes for the upcoming school year, while many more are still trying to avoid driver shortages.

In South Windsor, the school notified parents Monday that “the bus driver shortage will impact our school community again this year.” In a letter to families, Director of Finance and Operations Chris Chemerka says the situation has not improved from last year.

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“The district anticipates continued issues with the bus driver shortage as we head into the new school year. We hope that you, the families of South Windsor, can help by taking steps to become a fully licensed school bus driver and/or help spread the word to family, friends, colleagues, etc.,” he wrote.

Stafford Public Schools bus route information is now available! If you have any questions or concerns, please…

published by Stafford Public Schools activated Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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Many bus drivers retired or found other jobs in 2020 when students were learning remotely. Once they started moving back to hybrid schedules, it became easier for districts to customize routes. As children returned for five days of face-to-face learning, districts struggled to get staffing up to pre-pandemic levels, impacting the 2021-2022 school year.

All-Star Transportation CEO Stephen Gardner says they’d like to see dozens of new drivers, but are starting to see the number of drivers return to 2019 levels. The Waterbury-based company has more than 800 drivers serving primarily Litchfield County.

“We’re in a better position than we were about a year ago, so we’re very optimistic that things are turning around to a point where we’ll have fully staffed offices,” Gardner said. “We’d like to see 50 to 75 more drivers. That would put us in a more comfortable place than where we are now.”

He says some job seekers are trying to enter or re-enter the workforce. Even some retirees get behind the wheel. Gardner says the job gives people a part-time schedule and, if parents are interested, a chance to save money.

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“They’re moms or dads who want a job where they can be around their kids and not have to pay for daycare, so they like the flexibility of the schedule,” she said.

He said parents who continue to drive their children to and from school have helped reduce routes and eliminate unfilled spots. Many districts are trying to gather this information from parents so they know how to accommodate them.

“We are currently waiting for 1,100 responses to be completed. To fully address this bus driver shortage, it is crucial to know who will or will not be on the bus so that the Department for Transport can route and plan accordingly , in hopes of improving. the driver shortage situation for South Windsor families,” Chemerka said in her letter.

The Connecticut School Transportation Association, COSTA, held a driver recruitment drive last week to get more applications. Executive Director Jean Cronin said in a statement to FOX61 that this led to an increase in applications, but more are needed.

“Connecticut continues to experience a shortage of school bus drivers in every city in the state. Collectively, our member school bus companies are looking to hire 1,000 drivers for the upcoming school year,” he said. “School districts and superintendents will need to work with their school transportation providers as we approach school start dates to ensure that all bus routes are covered or, if not enough drivers, make adjustments to routes and schedules Parents will also need to be patient and cooperative with their children’s school bus providers as we all work to ensure Connecticut school children are transported from safely at school.”

Gardner says they anticipate fewer problems during the 2022-2023 school year than last year. However, he said there could be impacts if a driver called in sick, for example, but added that it was difficult to predict.

If interested, he encourages people to contact their local bus company. It takes four to five weeks to train, which means a new driver wouldn’t be ready to go when school starts, but soon after.

Tony Black is a multimedia reporter for FOX61 News. He can be reached at tblack@fox61.com. follow him Facebook, Twitter i Instagram.

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