Superintendent Responds To School Bus Driver Shortage
With the current bus driver shortage, Superintendent of Schools Chris Melillo recently responded to parent concerns.
The superintendent offered an update on what is being done and, in a letter sent to district parents on January 4, said, “I appreciate your understanding and flexibility during this difficult time.”
The bus driver shortage has been brought up at school board meetings throughout the pandemic and recently. At the December 20 board meeting, Melillo said All-Star Transportation, the district’s main transportation provider, has offered incentives and advertised job openings, and it was not able to hire enough people to cover “call outs due to being sick,” as previously reported by The Newtown Bee.
When a bus route is not covered, parents are notified to make arrangements to bring their child/children to school.
In his letter to parents, Melillo said he understands how the lack of consistent transportation can upset a family’s schedule.
“We have tried to tackle this proactively by offering hiring incentives for new drivers, bonus funds to retain current drivers, and our transportation provider increased pay to also try to increase the number of drivers,” said Melillo in his letter to parents. “Although we have been able to keep drivers and hire a couple more new drivers, our transportation provider has not been able to recruit enough drivers to handle callouts from illness.
“We consolidated routes before the year’s beginning and this has helped, but it has not solved the problem,” the letter continues. “Currently the bus company has been advertising for drivers and borrowing drivers from other yards, if drivers are available.”
This week, the superintendent shared that it is not always possible to find drivers from other towns to fill positions when people call out, as the bus driver shortage is impacting districts across the state.
“It’s a tough situation,” Melillo said.
The superintendent said the labor shortage is impacting other areas of education, “and that’s just the school system.” Other areas of the workforce are being impacted by shortages, he reflected.
Melillo said he thinks there are a lot of issues behind the bus driver and general labor shortage.
One specific issue for Newtown, Melillo shared, is the district’s two-tier bus system, which has students transported to the public schools in two waves. More waves would mean more paid hours driving.
Bus driving, he reflected, has been lucrative for parents with younger children, because they could bring the child on the bus with them, and the pandemic shifted where people look for jobs with that benefit.
The district attempted consolidating bus routes over winter break, Melillo said, and it tried running those routes after the break.
“And the routes were just too long,” Melillo said, regarding the length of time students are on a bus.
Melillo said there is a new bus driver course this month, and it includes an eight-week course and a safety program before bus drivers earn their license.
While there is no “quick fix,” Melillo said the district is “working hard to try to address it.”
“I apologize to the community,” Melillo said, adding that he feels responsible for making sure students get what they need, even during “this frustrating situation.”
He finished his letter to parents by saying, “Our administrative team and our Board of Education hear you and know this is a hardship for families. My team will continue to work with our transportation provider to try to recruit more drivers. Again, I apologize for the disruption this has caused you and your family and I appreciate your understanding and flexibility during this difficult time.”
Education Editor Eliza Van can be reached at email@example.com.