School bus driver recruitment bouncing back after pandemic shortage

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM, Aug. 29) – This week marks the first day of school for many across western Massachusetts. We know the pandemic worsened the nationwide school bus driver shortage and last school year, some districts faced bus route delays because of it.
“I kind of looked at it and I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve driven a mom van before, so it’s a bus,” said Holly Bartolon, a school bus driver with Travel Kuz.

Bartolon’s search for a part-time, flexible job resulted in the mom of three climbing into the front seat of a school bus.

“I actually received a flyer from my kid’s school that said, ‘Hey, we need school bus drivers’ and I went, ‘Okay, why not?’” Bartolon explained.

Bartolon is one of 17 new bus drivers at Travel Kuz, which serves schools in Franklin County. One of the owners, Pam Reipold, told Western Mass News the new hires come after COVID-19 amplified an existing issue.

“Recruiting is always something that we do here, even pre-pandemic because there’s been a school driver shortage for a lot longer than the last couple of years,” Reipold added.

Reipold told us many bus drivers are retirees and chose not to return to work amid the pandemic.

“Across the country, there’s still a 10 percent driver shortage, but fortunately for us out here in western Mass., we’re prepared to start the school year with all of our routes covered and drivers for all those routes,” said Peter Delani, director of customer relations with Van Pool Transportation.

At a training event a few weeks ago in Springfield, Western Mass News caught up with Van Pool, which transports students with special needs in 30 local districts. The 100 new drivers are taught technical aspects as well as how to provide for students’ social and emotional needs.

“We have the first and the last opportunity each day as we bring kids to school and bring them home from school to make a difference in their lives,” Delani added.

Back at Travel Kuz, Bartolon has her first passenger: her daughter, Marisol, who will ride her mom’s bus to first grade this year.

“You can bring your toddlers on the bus with you, so you don’t have to pay for daycare. It’s a really great schedule. When there’s a snow day, you never have to worry about what to do with your own kids right because you’re generally home,” Reipold explained.

Students in Franklin County will be heading back to school Tuesday and Wednesday and 140 of Travel Kuz’s buses will be rolling out of the lot, so Travel Kuz is reminding drivers to be on the lookout.

“If you see a yellow bus driving around your neighborhood, you’ve got to assume that it’s going to stop,” Reipold noted.

She asked that parents have patience with bus drivers this week, who like Bartolon, will be learning a new route, and meeting new kids.

“To have people who want to do this and love being with the kids is, personally for me as a mom, is just so important,” Bartolon said.

Starting pay for a bus driver at Travel Kuz is $24 an hour and benefits include healthcare and retirement.

https://www.westernmassnews.com/2022/08/29/school-bus-driver-recruitment-bouncing-back-after-pandemic-shortage/

Push to recruit bus drivers in MA before first day of school

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Students in Massachusetts will be heading back to school in a few weeks and transportation companies are making a late push to recruit more bus drivers.

Beacon Mobility, which provides transportation for children in more than 60 school districts across the state, said it is facing a driver shortage of about 10%.

The company opened a storefront in Lawrence on Wednesday for a recruiting event and a number of people stopped by to apply for jobs.

“I’m a very safe driver. I’m punctual, responsible and I love kids,” said applicant Maritza Negron. “That’s all I can say. It’s good to help kids.”

Beacon Mobility said that starting pay for bus drivers is between $25 and $30 an hour.

“We’re hiring drivers — van drivers, bus drivers — and monitors,” said Melanie Castillo, of Beacon Mobility.

The company said that the current shortage is not as severe as it was last year, when Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 250 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help communities across the state with school transportation.

“We’re going through the process of identifying where our roots are going to be, and then any areas that we anticipate that we might have some shortages,” said Peter Delani, of Beacon Mobility.

Castillo said Beacon Mobility is looking to hire about 200 new employees.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/massachusetts-school-bus-drivers-recruiting-push/40924591https://www.wcvb.com/article/parents-hoping-for-one-more-child-surprised-with-quadruplets/40936457

Mass. National Guard Steps in to Aid in School Transportation

READING – It usually takes longer than one day to become a school bus driver but more than 60 members of the Massachusetts National Guard were able to go through the entire process Tuesday at Camp Curtis Guild and they’ll be ready to hit the streets this week.

Sixty-seven members of the National Guard left Camp Curtis Guild with a new 7D certification in hand and will begin bus routes throughout Lowell, Chelsea and Lynn as early as Thursday.

(On Sept. 14) we had 75 members come out and 67 passed that course, which was great,” NRT Bus CEO John McCarthy said. “These folks will be in uniform, meeting kids just like bus drivers do, bringing them to school, so they’re really excited about this mission.”

John McCarthy is the CEO of NRT Bus – which provides transportation for students throughout Massachusetts and is working to train National Guard members.

“They’re very positive about taking children to school, they think it’s a unique opportunity to connect with the community in a different way,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said members started the day at 7:30 a.m. and went through fingerprinting, classroom exams and road tests, all to help the state deal with a shortage of bus drivers. NRT Bus reports it was down 350 employees three weeks ago but said the National Guard will be able to fill the void as they recruit new drivers.

“These folks went on and found other jobs,” McCarthy said. “We also had a little bit of a challenge with the unemployment being extended to where it is but we’re seeing a lot of candidates come in through the door now.”

McCarthy said another 65 service members will be training for their 7D certification Wednesday at Camp Curtis Guild and they’re set to begin helping the Lawrence school district on Monday.