The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Bus driver shortage causing problems

- By Joe Morelli

Athletic directors continue to have to move events either to later times or different days due to the statewide bus driver shortage.

School districts need to ensure there are enough buses and drivers available to transport students home from school before they can become available to the athletes.

“Problem is an understate­ment. As of now there are no athletic buses available to 3:45 p.m. due to driver shortages,” Bassick athletic director Pat

O’Rourke said.

Under a vaccinatio­n mandate by Gov. Ned Lamont, all school personnel and contractor­s in contact with students — including bus drivers — must be vaccinated or agree to weekly testing. Drivers who agreed to the testing said they would do so only if the testing was free and convenient, the Connecticu­t School Transporta­tion Associatio­n said in a letter to the acting commission­er of the state Department of Education.

The associatio­n reported to the state Friday that it

conducted a survey, finding that 1,558 school drivers in 12 school bus companies were unvaccinat­ed and 227 “will walk out the door after work on Friday.”

The state said it was aware of four school bus drivers who did not report to work Monday morning as buses rolled smoothly on the first day after the vaccinatio­n deadline, despite a threat that hundreds would walk off the job to protest the mandate.

Pomperaug athletic director Ron Plansky said he found out Monday morning that he had to move an away JV field hockey game, in addition to four middle school games, for that very reason. That JV field hockey game followed the varsity game at New Fairfield at 5:30 p.m.

The middle school soccer and field hockey games at Rochambeau and Memorial were all moved to 5 p.m.

“We have gotten progressiv­ely worse each week,” Plansky said. “Every day brings a new situation, unfortunat­ely.”

Hamden athletic director Tom Dyer said he continues to move five or six events per week based on either Hamden’s busing issues or another district having the same problems.

“It has been challengin­g, but there are many districts dealing with this issue,” Dyer said. “If a (walk out) were to happen, obviously, it would have a huge impact on the school-based athletics world for both high school and middle school sports.”

Brookfield athletic director Steve Baldwin told Hearst Connecticu­t Media last week that he has used both coach buses and party buses from an outside company to get his studentath­letes to road games. Baldwin said Monday that he has dates for six more coach buses and two party buses — both for the boys golf team — in the near future.

He also said that he has already shifted times for 10 athletic events for next week. And that is going to become increasing­ly more difficult.

“It’s starting to get darker earlier and games that have been moved (to facilities with no lights) we have to get in,” Baldwin said. “I’ve only lost one JV volleyball game (canceled). I’m trying not to lose anything else. The kids have gone through enough the last two years, so hopefully, they won’t have to miss any games.”

Immaculate athletic director Nelson Mingachos said he has moved some games. It’s been the help of parents with driving kids to and from athletic events that have prevented it from being more.

“Parents have been great helping with the driving this fall. Without that, I’m not sure where we would be,” Mingachos said.

Danbury athletic director Chip Salvestrin­i said while there have been issues with buses this season, they are due to the school district being unable to handle all the trips for the Hatters’ teams.

“We were fortunate to find an outside carrier that’s been able to pick up 95% of our trips that the district couldn’t pick up,” Salvestrin­i said.

The Hatters were scheduled for two away games at different levels on Monday.

“We have not heard anything today about problems with kids getting to school or going home from school,” Salvestrin­i said. “We have two trips today for athletics and we’ve got one with our district and one with an outside carrier, so we’re going day by day and we’re ok for today.”

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