PARIS – The poor economy and high unemployment has helped school districts statewide keep drivers for their fleets, officials say.

Four years ago, the director of SAD 17 transportation was so desperate to find drivers that he tied a large help wanted banner to a parked school bus on Route 26 to attract applicants.

Today, the department has all positions filled and even has spare drivers, transportation director Glenn Sirois said.

“People need jobs,” Sirois said, citing it as the major reason he believes he’s been able to keep a full compliment of quality drivers. “It’s fueled by the economy.”

Tough times

Sirois spent years with Lewiston school bus operations, where he said he saw some tough times getting drivers. “When I worked for Lewiston it was rough,” he said.

Today, Lewiston’s school bus service is up to par, said Dick Dumont, office manager for Hudson Bus Lines, which operates Student Transportation Services of America in Lewiston.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” said Dumont of the service that transports Lewiston students and runs a shuttle service for St. Dominic’s Regional High School in Auburn.

The trend appears to be statewide.

“We are unaware of any shortage of bus drivers in the state right now,” Department of Education communication director David Connerty-Marin said. “That’s different than the usual, which is there’s always some difficulty in finding bus drivers to fill the positions, but nothing unusual right now.”

Economy is key

Dumont and Sirois agree the economy is a key factor in keeping drivers, but Sirois said SAD 17 offers a well-rounded package including extensive training and staff development that keeps drivers on the job.

“I think it’s the way SAD 17 pays their people. We’re right up there. It’s competitive,” he said of pay that starts at about $10.38 per hour for spare drivers.

Regular drivers – either full or part time – who have worked up to three years are paid $12.96 per hour.

Drivers earn their pay, he said.

With about 800,000 miles for the 42 school buses to cover each school year, the 48 regular drivers are backed up by four fill-ins, and even the mechanics, office staff and Sirois, who are licensed to drive when necessary.

“We have a very large district,” Sirois said, referring to the eight towns of Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Waterford and West Paris.

“It’s a tough job and you have to enjoy it,” he said.

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