Maine Needs More School Bus Drivers

The school year is just around the corner, and many school districts are facing a bus driver shortage.

"I think there are a few districts out there that don't have enough drivers to start the school year," said Lennie Goff, the transportation director at RSU 18 in Oakland, Maine, and former president of the Maine Association of Pupil Transportation.

While Goff has enough full-time bus drivers at RSU 18 to start the school year, he has a banner in front of the elementary school, advertising for more.

"We are always looking for good substitute drivers," he said.

Goff said it's become difficult to recruit drivers for several reasons: Maine's unemployment rate is low, so there are fewer job seekers. Bus drivers work part-time, with hours early in the day and in the afternoon: a schedule that doesn't work for everyone. The job also requires a special license, and several weeks of training.

According to the Maine Department of Education, there are 50 open bus driver positions to be filled immediately.

The bus driver shortage is impacting districts across the nation, according to a survey by School Bus Fleet Magazine, which asked 50 of its top contractors to describe their shortages. More than half of the respondents said their driver shortage was "moderate," and nearly a quarter said it was "severe."

Goff said a driver shortage can put school districts in a tough position. Some have chosen to consolidate bus routes, recruit drivers from other districts, and expand the area where students must walk to school.

School Bus Fleet reports that nearly half of their contractors ramp up advertising to recruit drivers.

In Maine, the Department of Labor is teaming up with the Department of Education to address the school bus driver shortage with its "Hire a Vet" campaign. For some school districts, veterans can receive free training to become bus drivers.

"Veterans were a niche for this particular job," said Maine Department of Education communications director Rachel Paling. "They've got experience with mechanics, they’ve been trained in safety and security, and working in team environments."

The Department of Labor is kicking off its statewide Hire A Vet campaign on Labor Day, and offering a job fair in Augusta on Aug. 29.

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