Bus driver shortage continues to affect New Milford schools
NEW MILFORD — School bus drivers are in short supply this year. And in New Milford, this essential element of morning and afternoon commutes has proven a continuous problem.
Since the start of school, New Milford has struggled to keep a consistent bus schedule with their transportation provider, All-Star Transportation, at times forced to alter or cancel morning and afternoon routes if there aren’t enough drivers to man the buses.
Bus route interruptions that began in September have continued throughout the district. Just this week, at least four buses had altered schedules— either not running in the morning, or afternoon, or sometimes both.
During a Nov. 16 regular board meeting, DiCorpo told the school board members that the district had been experiencing “daily shortages with the bus company” and that “they have been working very diligently to fulfill their obligations to our district by sourcing other drivers from other bus depots.”
“For a few days, it did become very difficult. They had a full fleet today, and we're very grateful for that. We hope that they'll be able to sustain it,” DiCorpo added.
Yet, DiCorpo reported information this week showing the problems persist, with All-Star communicating that “a few buses” would not run and “they were different each day,” according to the superintendent.
All-Star serves districts that include Newtown, Brookfield, Torrington and Ansonia. This fiscal year, New Milford shelled out roughly $4.1 million to All-Star as part of their transportation contract, a 3 percent increase from the year before. This is the district’s fourth year of a five year contract.
The company has not responded to the NewsTimes since September when the paper first reached out for request for comment.
Just this week, bus 28 could not run on Wednesday afternoon, and parents were notified that morning, DiCorpo wrote to the News-Times.
Three buses — bus 12, bus 27, and bus 34— could not complete morning and afternoon runs on Tuesday. Bus 34 was also out of commission Monday afternoon.
“All-Star transportation has been notifying the district as soon as is possible if runs cannot be
made and we notify parents and the schools shortly thereafter,” DiCorpo wrote. “The schools have also done a wonderful job working directly with parents on the afternoon changes in transportation that have resulted in the bus runs not occurring.”
DiCorpo explained in the November board meeting that staff had been told not to mark students tardy if they were arriving late by car with a parent due to the change-ups in routes.
“We're doing the best we can to get the messaging out so that parents can make decisions,” DiCorpo said.
But some parents have voiced their frustration online.
New Milford parents are now intimately familiar
with the bus driver shortage, and post about it in local Facebook groups. Their posts show how abrupt schedule changes impact their lives — with some having to unexpectedly alter transportation plans for their children on short notice.
“Why is it always bus 12?” one man asked in a local New Milford Facebook page on Dec. 7. “No driver again. Had to take my daughter to school and then go home and get the other one ready for her bus,” he commented further down on the post.
“It was also bus 27,” another parent commented. “So, I had to drop off my oldest [sic] then I dropped my youngest at preschool.”
A woman responded on the thread saying that “us drivers are doing multiple runs. We are doing the best we can!” Several parents also voiced their support and love for the drivers who drove their kids each morning and afternoon.
Solving existing problems
The bus driver shortage is a local as well as national issue, felt by districts across the country. In Connecticut, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate may have also played a role in the loss of a few drivers.
However, a walk-out in the Danbury area this fall over the mandate yielded only a handful of missing drivers.
This fall, the general manager for All-Star Transportation in Waterbury, told a local news station that it was the “worst shortage we’ve ever experienced” and that they were down to about 15 to 20 percent of their drivers.
Still, the company appears hard at work trying to recruit new drivers.
A Facebook post on the company’s page talks about incentives: “All-Star Employees - Want to earn some extra $$$?” before listing a referral bonus of $1,500. “Step 1 - Refer a friend. Step 2 - Get PAID!!. Step 3 - Repeat Steps 1 & 2,” it reads.
Additionally, last month
All-Star launched several hiring events, promoted on their social media page, for areas like Torrington, New Milford, Newtown, and Seymour. On Indeed.com, the company is hiring bus drivers for many of their locations, including Washington, Oxford, New Milford, Brookfield, Litchfield, Thomaston, and 11 other areas.
However, New Milford appears to be an outlier when it comes to bus route problems related to driver shortages.
Brookfield Superintendent John Barile said that the district, which is also serviced by All-Star, currently has enough drivers and have not experienced any problems covering routes of late.
While Region 12 does not have enough All-Star substitute drivers, they do have enough to staff all 17 of their district’s routes, according to Superintendent Megan Bennett.
“All-Star has been sharing drivers across districts to help fill any need. They have gone so far as to utilize licensed office staff and supervisors to drive when the need has arisen,” Bennett wrote in an email to the News-Times. “All-Star continues to be a wonderful partner with Region 12 and has alerted us to potential issues with bus transportation.”