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Superintendent Discusses ‘Parked’ Buses, Alternate Transportation, Finding Drivers



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For some students getting to and from school has been contingent on the number of bus drivers available recently.

While “all districts are dealing with bus driver shortages,” Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said in a communication to families this week, Newtown’s impact has been on runs when bus drivers call out.

The superintendent explained in a recent phone interview that “for very good reasons” people have called out of work and the current bus driver shortage means there are not enough substitute drivers.

The district has been trying to rotate which bus routes are “parked,” and Rodrigue said later pickup and early drop-offs have been made available for parents.

In the announcement to families, Rodrigue said, “As I communicated previously, all districts are dealing with bus driver shortages. While we have managed to navigate this issue early on, we are experiencing some issues when drivers are absent, as there are not enough substitute drivers to offset absences.

Awaiting Driver Testing

“In talking with [All-Star Transportation], we have drivers testing in early November, which is the earliest date DMV has been able to accommodate given the backlog across the state,” she said. “Meanwhile, All-Star is doing its best to monitor bus driver absences and to seek out support from other town bus depots.”

As Rodrigue explained at the Board of Education’s October 19 meeting, All-Star Transportation, which oversees most of Newtown’s bus routes, can look for drivers in its other districts since it offers its transportation services in other towns too, but the bus driver shortage is happening everywhere in the state.

“If you have already had students on any bus that had to be ‘parked’ as a result, we thank you for working with us and finding alternate transportation,” the communication to families continues. “Should we notify you that your child’s bus will not have a driver for a particular run, please know that we can typically transport students on a later run if you cannot provide transportation. This will not cause any student to be marked tardy, in the morning, and students will be provided a safe space at school in the afternoon if they are waiting for an alternate bus home.”

Most impacted families have, so far, found ways to drive students to school and have been “extremely understanding,” Rodrigue said in the phone interview.

Feeling The Impact

Newtown began feeling the impact of the statewide bus driver shortage a couple weeks ago, the superintendent explained. Day to day, if no one calls out, then there are enough district bus drivers. And when families have students on impacted routes, Rodrigue said messages are sent from the district to the families using the standard communication protocols.

Rodrigue said she knows the state and the Department of Education is working to minimize the backlog of new hires waiting to be licensed as bus drivers.

“All-Star and the state are working diligently,” said Rodrigue.

At the school board’s meeting, board member Rebekah Harriman questioned the district’s ability to transport students to out of district schools, and Rodrigue said she would look into the matter.

In Newtown, the shortage has come from staffing issues in general, Rodrigue said in the phone interview, noting there is a shortage of substitutes for classrooms as well. “A lot has happened” with the COVID-19 pandemic and there are many reasons why there is less staff now, Rodrigue said. From retirements to the current health situation, Rodrigue said there were other personal reasons shared by individuals for the staffing level to be lower now.

The bus driver shortage has not impacted one grade level or school more than others, yet, because Newtown’s two-tier bus routes allows rotating the available drivers evenly across the district, according to Rodrigue.

Rodrigue hopes the district will be in a better position in November concerning the number of available bus drivers.

Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

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