school bus driver shortage

State Task Force Working to Address School Bus Driver Shortage

The Connecticut departments of education, children and families, and motor vehicles are involved in the task force.

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Monica Mazzarella said her afternoons are often filled with uncertainty, as she waits for her kids to get off the school bus.

"I stand around for a very long time. I never know when they are going to get home," said Mazzarella, a Groton mom of two children. "I am lucky that I can work on my own schedule or else it would be a big issue."

Groton's superintendent said Mazzarella is not the only parent dealing with school bus delays. She described the school bus situation this year as "challenging" and "frustrating."

"Every day we have been down from five to 11 bus drivers a day, which is a quarter of the fleet," said Susan Austin, superintendent of Groton Public Schools.

Other school districts across Connecticut are facing similar challenges. It is why the state has launched a school bus driver shortage task force.

"The goal is to really assess the situation, but also to come up with solutions," said Eric Scoville, who helps to lead the task force for the CT Department of Education.

The task force brings together several groups including the departments of education, children and families, and the department of motor vehicles.

"We will continue to meet as long as this issue persists," said Scoville.

The task force reports that they have been in contact with about 20 school districts across the state. They have been able to help in several ways.

The CT Department of Social Services contracts with a transportation vendor, Veyo, for Medicaid recipients. The state has been able to deploy those drivers in several school districts to help transport special education students using vans.

"This has been able to free up spaces on buses so we can get more students into the classroom," said Scoville.

The task force has also reached out to all 9,000 CDL drivers in the state, people who are already qualified to drive school buses. According to Scoville, about 2,000 of those drivers are not currently on the road. He said they have already heard from about 200 drivers who are interested.

"We are hoping that this can fill some of those vacancies," said Scoville.

Groton's superintendent has been in touch with the task force. Austin said that her team is looking into using some of the drivers from the state's vendor to help transport students.

According to Austin, the situation in Groton is improving. She reports that the bus company they work with, STA, is now at level staffing. She is still nervous about what will happen if a driver needs to call out and there is no substitute driver.

"The driver shortage has been an ongoing issue for providers across the country, even pre-pandemic, and the public health crisis ultimately exacerbated the problem. This includes many unanticipated retirements, mostly due to health concerns from those with pre-existing conditions and those who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, as well as a limited applicant pool of new recruits," a spokesperson for STA wrote in an email to NBC Connecticut. "At our Groton location, through an extensive recruiting and training campaign, we are currently able to cover all 65 of our routes."

Austin said she is glad that the state is looking into the challenge.

"I want to see improvement," said Austin. "It's time."

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