AUBURN — The School Department has found out that outsourcing bus drivers to save money didn’t work.

This fall, bus drivers will be employees of the School Department.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Katy Grondin said the School Department is ending its relationship with Ledgemere Transportation. The company and the School Department have mutually agreed “to go our separate ways,” Grondin said. “Ledgemere worked hard with us. It’s in everyone’s best interest to take operations over.”

Drivers will get pay raises. Some will be be made full-time employees with 30-hour workweeks and receive benefits, including health insurance, Grondin said.

“We’re hoping the bus drivers who left us will come back,” she said.

“I am very pleased,” said veteran bus driver Bob Bryant. “It’s been a rough year all school year.” With the changes that are coming, “we’re on the right track.”

The problems can’t be blamed on Ledgemere, Bryant said. They were hired July 1 “and weren’t given time to prepare.”

Grondin said she and other officials met with the bus drivers Wednesday to announce the changes. She hopes current drivers will continue to work for the School Department, and drivers who have left will return. “We shared with them that we know this year was a difficult year.”

Part of the problem was a bus driver shortage that’s widespread, which led to difficulty filling some routes. Also, new drivers didn’t know Auburn. Late runs were not unusual.

“There’s been problems with field trip availability, buses going the wrong directions,” Auburn Middle School teacher and union leader Carl Bucciantini said. “On-time performance of picking kids up has been a bone of contention. Teachers have had to wait for kids to be picked up.”

When drivers are part of the School Department again, there’ll be more local control, Bucciantini said. He added that decent wages and benefits will help with retention.

Grondin said Billy Hunter, director of support services, will oversee transportation operations. Some of the 26 drivers, the number isn’t known yet, will be offered full-time work of 30 hours, which will create more availability for student transportation.

Health insurance for full-time drivers will be paid 75 percent by the district and 25 percent by the driver. Based on a driver’s experience, the current pay of $15.46 an hour could rise to $20.

Ledgemere is providing a good transition, Grondin said. The GPS they’ve added to buses will stay, as will the long arms that come out when buses stop.

In 2013 when the Auburn School Committee unanimously voted to outsource transportation to save money, bus drivers objected. At that time the School Department provided health care to drivers who worked 20 hours a week.

Driver Debra Therriault, who was one of the union representatives for drivers in the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, warned that the district would not save money, “other than health care.”

The contract in 2013 was given to Northeast Charter; in 2016 it was awarded to Ledgemere Transportation.

Parents this year have complained that their children stood waiting in the dark for 30 minutes, or were let off at the wrong stop.

Betty Witham, an Auburn bus driver since 1989, said Wednesday that “it’s great that Auburn is taking it back.” Veteran drivers like her “know the streets of Auburn.” There were a lot of new drivers. “Some were just starting to drive. It makes a difference in getting to know where you’re going.”

Like Bob Bryant, she said she loves driving students. “They talk to me and I talk to them.”

Auburn school buses make their way up Court Street from Auburn Middle School. This fall, bus drivers will again be School Department employees, Superintendent Katy Grondi announced Wednesday.


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