School Bus Driver Shortage A “Remarkable Challenge” For Portland, Says Superintendent

While many school district leaders in the region did not anticipate the problems with the governor’s mandate for COVID vaccine for bus drivers, a superintendent is struggling with shortages for an entirely different reason.

Governor Ned Lamont issued an executive order on August 19, requiring all state employees and staff in day care centers and kindergartens and preschools to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by now Monday or take weekly tests.

The Connecticut School Transportation Association reported in a statement Monday that there had been “very little” disruption to getting students to school because of the executive order.


Portland public schools have faced a significant deficit – 60% – of bus operators because M&J Bus is grappling with a “remarkable challenge” unrelated to the mandate, Superintendent Charles Britton said.

“It’s a little more complicated, but it’s not due to drivers quitting their jobs to protest the vaccine’s mandate,” he said.

There are 10 M&J drivers serving Portland schools. Two of those positions have been vacant since last year, he said. Another pair of drivers announced their departure at the end of this week.

The neighborhood is no longer “jam-packed” with drivers, Britton said. The district has fallen to six, he added.

“Not only is it a challenge, but it’s whether everyone is healthy and not sick or have personal issues that they can’t show up for at work,” he said. .

Portland schools employ two drivers who drive special education buses, which also replaced when shortages occurred, Britton said.

So far, he’s handled the situation by combining the 10 routes into eight, bringing each bus closer to the maximum capacity of 77, Britton said.

“We’ve never been there, but we’re up to it,” he said.

With more students in a vehicle, buses can be up to 20 minutes late, he acknowledged. On a “bad day”, with a driver outside, it amounts to half an hour late.

That will change once the district loses those two operators on Friday, he said. Just like last year, when there was a shortage of substitute teachers, Britton said, “In a normal year we would have a handful.”

The only solution, he added, is to “collapse” the routes. “We are looking at the possibility of abandoning the tracks,” which could mean that the school transport would run in two tracks – the first group would arrive at school early and the second would be a little late.

“We have a lot of options on the table,” said Britton.

Middletown

Director of Communications Jessie B. Lavorgna said Middletown’s public schools are “in good shape”.

The city’s eight public schools were operating on an early dismissal schedule Monday due to a professional development day.

As with other school systems in the region, DATTCO, which conducts testing, said the majority of its drivers had been vaccinated – or agreed to have regular testing, she said.

DATTCO has a number of driver job openings, Lavorgna said, a trend seen nationwide. Middletown is working with the coach company to make sure all students can get to and from school for extracurricular activities.

“If anyone has ever wanted to be a driver, now is the time,” she said.

East hampton

East Hampton Schools Superintendent Paul K. Smith said he was not surprised by the lack of disruption.

DATTCO, which maintains records of driver vaccinations, provided information to the district early last week. “We knew well in advance that there would be no problems. They are either vaccinated or will be tested.

Cromwell

In Cromwell, there was little impact on student transportation on Monday, according to schools superintendent Enza Macri, who worked with DATTO to ensure transportation to extracurricular activities, especially sports, took place. smooth.

“We take it one day at a time,” she said.

She praised DATTCO for quickly providing statistics on driver vaccines, as well as for working with the district on the issue, calling the company a “partner”.

“They are not going to leave us hanging,” Macri said. “We are in good shape considering the poor performance of other districts. “

All DATTCO operators at Cromwell Public Schools have been granted exemptions or are ready to undergo weekly testing. One is in the process of getting his second shot, the superintendent said.

About Colin Shumway

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