Three hundred students in Hamden Public Schools had to find alternate transportation for their first day of school on Monday after the district notified them over the weekend of a bus driver shortage.
First Student Bus Company notified the district on Friday night that there were not enough bus drivers to cover all the bus routes, according to Tom Ariola, the chief operating and finance officer for Hamden Public Schools. The district was aware of the nationwide school bus driver shortage, but Ariola said First Student assured them there would only be delays.
“The superintendent is beyond frustrated right now. Again, he was informed and we were informed of this as it went on. We understand the shortage, we understand the position. Everybody is in the same position, but if we had known about this five weeks ago, the parents would have known about this five weeks ago, not Friday night at 7:30,” said Ariola.
The district worked throughout the weekend to get the special education bus routes covered, but still ended up with no bus drivers for seven routes affecting roughly 300 students across the district.
District leaders are actively working to find a solution, including meeting with the bus company again on Monday, according to Ariola.
“We’re looking at routes, looking at consolidation of routes and doing everything within our power to make sure that these kids get the service that they deserve,” said Ariola.
First Student said it is working to fill vacancies by offering significant incentives, including sign-on bonuses up to $5,000 for each new driver.
"While our goal is to ensure transportation service resumes as seamlessly as possible following summer break, a need for drivers could affect some bus routes," said Jay Brock, a spokesperson for First Student. "Unfortunately, a number of our drivers decided not to return to work this school year for various reasons. We are working in partnership with the district to minimize the impact to families. Longer routes and wait times at bus stops are possible."
Parents who spoke with NBC Connecticut said they hope together the district and bus company can find a solution.
“No one is very happy about it,” said Heather Shubert, who had to drive her daughter to school this morning because her bus route was canceled. “I know they have staff shortages for the buses, I really, honestly I don’t know, I just think something’s got to change.”