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New Hampshire bus driver shortage a ‘crisis,’ experts say

Monitor staff
Published: 7/28/2021 9:49:21 AM

New Hampshire has a severe shortage of school bus drivers post-pandemic, which has left some school districts with as few as half the drivers they need, transportation officials said Wednesday.

The New Hampshire School Transportation Association, a trade group of school districts and private bus contractors, held a press conference with Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut amid the roar of passing traffic outside the Bow Community Center on Wednesday, to encourage Granite Staters to apply for school bus driver jobs.

“The school bus driver crisis has hit every aspect of school bus driving in the state, from the local districts that have six buses up in the northern parts of New Hampshire, all the way to the larger 100- and 200-bus companies,” said Sandra Rowe, NH School Transportation Association board member.

Karen Holden, assistant director of school operations for the Manchester Transit Authority, said the driver shortage, which has been an issue in New Hampshire for years, became extreme during the pandemic, when she said many bus drivers stopped working, either due to health concerns or to assist their own children with remote schooling.

She estimates there are currently hundreds of open positions for school bus drivers across the state.

“New Hampshire has never seen such a severe shortage of bus drivers, and now it is at a crisis level which will make it more difficult to get students to school next year,” said “It’s important for all parties to get together to address this concern.”

A shortage of available workers has become an increasing challenge for hiring managers across many industries statewide since the pandemic.

“We want to see our students back in in-person instruction, and part of that is having bus drivers to transport our students to school,” said Edelblut. “In a time when New Hampshire has record unemployment, it is difficult to truly find people for anything, its important for us to reach out to communities so we can have a great start to school in the fall.”

The state of New Hampshire is mandated to provide transportation to and from public school for students K-8. School bus driver positions are usually part-time, with drivers working several hours in the mornings and several hours in the afternoons and driving school vehicles that range in size from vans to full-size buses. Wages and incentives for school bus drivers differ per district – in Concord, the starting rate is $16.19, in Manchester it’s $18.50.

At the press conference, Manchester school bus driver Jessica Dreckmann encouraged others to apply for bus driver jobs.

“I have a lasting effect on the children that I transport on a daily basis,” Dreckmann said. “I see children that have grown up over the years that I’ve transported, and when they see me in the community they always remember who I am as a school bus driver.”

Dean Cascadden, superintendent of Bow and Dunbarton school districts, said having good bus drivers are an important element of student support, alerting the district to student issues that may not be apparent in the classroom.

“For some of our students, that’s the first employee they see in a year and the last employee they see in the year,” Cascadden said. “And that relationship that that bus driver can form with that student is critical to our success.”

Holden said anyone who is interested in becoming a bus driver can contact their local school district about openings.

“When we say that your community needs you, your community needs you,” Holden said. “Each district has a need, some greater than others, but there is a need in each district out there.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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