Lack of Bus Drivers Delays Start of School Year, Changes School Hours

A lack of bus drivers has been seen across the country, particularly in New Hampshire, which has many rural communities and a low unemployment rate.
Published: August 31, 2017

Some New Hampshire school districts have pushed back the first day of school due to lack of bus drivers. Others have changed regular school hours to accommodate the few bus drivers that are available.

In Wakefield, elementary and middle schools won’t be back in the classroom until September 11. The first day was originally scheduled for September 5, reports WMUR.

“Basically, we have five elementary routes, four high school routes, and then we have five special education routes, and right now, we have three drivers,” says school business administrator Terry Wiggin.

Shortage of school bus drivers is an issue across the entire state of New Hampshire. There are only 3,000 licensed bus drivers for the 4,000 bus routes. Rural communities like Wakefield have been hit harder by the shortage due to lack of resources in picking up the slack.

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The school district is currently working with both and the state Department of Education to help find drivers.

“The extra week will give us a chance to do some revised routes, to test those routes and again, hopefully, to get the drivers on board that we need to at least do the minimum routing that’s required,” says Wiggin.

Although no buses will be running, Wiggin says the district’s one elementary school building will be open this coming week, but standard classes will not be held.

“If parents choose to drop their children off, we will have teachers here running educational activities during regular school hours, and we will have breakfast and lunch for those children,” he says.

Schools Hours Changed Due to Lack of Bus Drivers

Another New Hampshire school district has been forced to changes its school hours due to the shortage of bus drivers.

At Northwood Elementary, school hours are now 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. since Northwood has had to recruit drivers from other districts to help cover their routes, according to the Union Leader.

The district had a three-year contract with Northwood Transportation but the company went out of business.

Parents say the schedule change has been difficult for their children to adjust to, cutting family time short.

“I want them to be able to get to school and not get home until 5:00 at night. That’s dinner time. I want them to get home and get their homework done,” parent Renee Quaglia told CBS Local.

After-school activities have also been affected by the schedule change.

Dance instructor Simon Hales at Ballet North in Epsom says they base their schedule on the schedule of surrounding schools. Approximately 25 to 30 students from Northwood can’t make the regularly scheduled dance classes.

Ballet North instructors who typically work until 9 p.m. are now getting up early in the morning to teach Northwood students before school starts.

As of Wednesday, almost two weeks after the start of the school year, Coe Brown North Academy students now have bus transportation again. The Northwood regional high school has 239 students who rely on the bus to take them to and from school.

Headmaster David Smith says he is looking forward to the district resolving the bus issues since a lot of his students are helping out their parents with younger siblings.

Why is There a Shortage of Bus Drivers?

Walter Perry, the executive director of the New Hampshire School Transportation Association, says the statewide lack of drivers is due in part to a thriving economy with a low unemployment rate.

“We can’t compete with a retail position”, says Perry of the wages and benefits afforded to a school bus driver.

Superintendent Robert Gadomski says he hopes to have four bus drivers by late October. In New Hampshire, there is a 30- to 60-day process for getting a school bus license, certification and background check.

So far, the district has recruited a driver who previously worked for Northwood Transportation and has rented a bus from Durham Transportation Services which is accommodating Coe Brown students.

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