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CT accelerates recruitment of school bus drivers; 1,000 open jobs

With over 1,000 vacancies statewide, current school bus drivers are beginning to feel the pressure of vacancies.

The need for more school bus drivers existed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but staffing issues, like many in various Connecticut industries, have been exacerbated by the pandemic and its aftermath, Jon Hipsher said. , COO of M&J Bus.

Hipsher, who was also a former bus driver, sits on the board of directors of the Connecticut School Transportation Association, or COSTA, which held a recruitment event earlier this month highlighting the need for more school bus drivers. .

“It’s a bit of a moving target, but every bus company in the state of Connecticut is hiring at pretty much every terminal they have in every city, so there’s a high demand. I guess the state is over 1,000 school bus drivers short,” he said.

There are eight to 10 large-scale school bus providers in the state, each serving multiple school districts, Hipsher said. With companies having smaller coverage areas, there are about a dozen school bus providers in Connecticut.

“But the shortage has been going on for several years before the pandemic,” he said. “There are a bunch of reasons, historically. The salary was not attractive – the salary of bus drivers is significantly higher than ever. People are afraid to get on a 40ft bus with a bunch of rowdy kids.

COSTA and school bus driver companies have worked with the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the state Department of Education to sound the alarm about the need for more drivers, including streamlining the application and certification processes, Hipsher said.

By identifying efficiencies and improving the electronic process, candidates can be certified in about five to six weeks, compared to the process previously taking eight to 12 weeks, he said.

Over the past year, COSTA and state agencies have held two events to recruit more drivers. Hipsher said he noticed an increase in applications since the Aug. 1 event at M&J Bus headquarters.

“I hope this media event has helped other bus companies. We have seen an increase in applications over the last week and a half. At this point, we hold kick-off meetings with the drivers where we remind them of the summer and talk with them about their driving schedules and talk about the year ahead,” Hipsher said.

“You hope you don’t have any surprises, that they decided not to come back, but the first hiring efforts are bearing fruit and we hope that we have stabilized after people have left the industry l ‘last year.”

M&J Bus, which is based in Old Saybrook, operates in 26 school districts, with a strong presence along the coastline, Hipsher said. It is looking to hire about 600 drivers, he said. The company’s 26 terminals are hiring, including that of Clinton bus conductor Hannah Meyer.

Meyer, 33, initially pursued the license and position because the schedule aligned well with her elementary school-aged daughter’s schedule.

“She gets on my bus. I wanted to be in his city, that makes it a lot easier,” Meyer said. “I have an 8-year-old child, so the schedule was ideal. Same days off, summer vacation and I can bring her with me so I don’t have to pay for babysitting.

Being able to bring her daughter with her on days when she doesn’t have school was a major consideration in taking the job, allowing her to avoid the high cost of childcare, she said. declared.

Meyer received the proper CDL license and DMV approval shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and her work was briefly suspended as Clinton schools moved to remote options.

Once schools transitioned to a hybrid model, Meyer began her journey, which involves multiple schools in Clinton, and felt the lack of school bus drivers.

“We absolutely need more drivers. Parents are using school buses more than at the start of the pandemic. I don’t have a benchmark for before, but now things are safe and good on the school bus with cleanliness,” Meyer said.

“I think COVID has scared a lot of people because you’re exposed to a lot of kids, but as far as we’re concerned, we’re not in direct contact with a lot either. We take precautions when cleaning and spray all high-touch areas,” she said.

During her two years as a pilot, Meyer rose through the ranks and is now also a trainer. Meyer said she loved the work and was confident she would stick around for years to come in some capacity.

“From a coach’s perspective, we don’t put anyone on the road who isn’t comfortable behind the wheel,” she said. “We have many who have been there for 25 to 30 years. Many people fall in love with the children and the atmosphere. Once people are inside, they stay inside, but many are intimidated by the size of the bus and the responsibility. »

By streamlining the hiring and licensing processes, state agencies have ensured they aren’t cutting corners on safety and qualification, said Department of Education spokesman Eric Scoville.

With driver shortages, several school districts across the state had to cancel classes last year or delay openings due to driver shortages, including Ledyard, Bloomfield and Seymour Area 16, Scoville said.

“They are an essential part of the school ecosystem. We have a task force ready to step in if we have to do it, we will do it again, if we find the kids can’t get into the classroom,” Scoville said. “We saw it last year, different neighborhoods having to rework their schedules or delay opening or closing due to shortages. We don’t know what it will be like this year, but we’re hopeful.

abigail.brone@hearstmédiact.com

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