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Bus driver shortage changes Northwood school schedule, strands Coe-Brown students



Monitor staff
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The shortage of bus drivers bedeviling school systems throughout the region has hit Northwood particularly hard, shifting the school day for more than 400 elementary students and leaving some 200 high school students without any public transportation.

“I don’t know if this will last all year, but I don’t see any end in sight,” said Robert Gadomski, superintendent of SAU 44, which includes Northwood.

On Monday night, the Northwood School Board shifted the education day at Northwood School so it runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., giving drivers from other districts time to finish their runs and then head over to Northwood.

However, the school day could not be shifted at Coe-Brown, which also takes students from Strafford, Barrington and Nottingham, leaving Northwood’s high school students without any form of public transportation.

Gadomski said two drivers are in training to help the district, but six drivers are needed to begin bus service for the K-through-8 Northwood School, and to ferry high school students to Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. It can take several weeks to complete the classroom and behind-the-wheel training needed to get the Class B license and school bus certificate needed to drive students in New Hampshire.

“I’ve talked to bus companies throughout the Northeast, talked to superintendents throughout New Hampshire, and they’re all saying the same thing – they’re having a very difficult time. Many superintendents are saying they don’t have their own bus routes all full yet,” Gadomski said.

The shortage is so dire that it couldn’t be solved even when the Northwood School Board and Epsom-based Dail Transportation, which is part of the national Student Transportation of America firm, offered signing bonuses for new drivers that started at $1,500 and as of last week had been upped by the school board to $4,500.

The shortage is not just bus drivers, Gadomski noted.

“It’s part-time jobs in general,” he said. “We’re having difficulty filling custodial and other part-time jobs.”

Northwood’s situation is dire because the company that had the contract for busing students, Northwood Transportation, went out of business in the spring with a year left to go on its contract.

“We sent the contract out to bid, and no bus companies accepted. They all told me the same thing – they have plenty of buses, but they don’t have drivers,” Gadomski said.

The district thought it had lined up four drivers who had previously worked for Northwood Transportation, but Gadomski said this group informed the district last week that they wouldn’t be working, after all.

In addition to shifting the bus schedule, the school board also pushed back the first day of classes at Northwood School from this Thursday to next Monday. Coe-Brown started school Monday.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)