LEWISTON — If just one more bus driver is absent, the Lewiston school district will have to cancel a bus run.

That was the urgent message from Superintendent Jake Langlais during Monday’s School Committee meeting at Connors Elementary School, where he updated members about the ongoing staffing shortage.

The Lewiston school district has struggled with staffing since the school year began. However, rising cases cases of COVID-19 in the last several weeks has made the district’s difficult situation more dire and unpredictable.

At least eight bus drivers for the Lewiston school district are unable to work due to illness, Langlais said.

Six drivers are out due to COVID-19, and two others are absent because of unrelated medical problems, he said. Additionally, two drivers have submitted resignation letters and will leave Hudson Bus Lines, the school’s contractor, next week.

The district has been short several bus drivers since the school year began. At full capacity, the district would have more than 25 bus drivers. Currently, every staff member at Hudson Bus Lines who is able to drive a bus is doing so, Langlais said.

Advertisement

In a conversation following the meeting, Langlais commented that he is even more concerned with the shortage of bus drivers than school staff. He said that several schools were on the verge of going remote last week due to staffing concern, in addition to Lewiston Middle School which was remote all of last week. The middle school resumed in-person classes on Monday.

The school district is actively searching for substitute teachers for all Lewiston schools.

Due to the severity of the issue, Langlais said he could be forced to send a message to parents at 6:30 a.m. alerting them their their child’s bus will not be operating if a driver is unable to work. In this situation, schools would be operating and parents would be tasked with finding transportation to school.

Ward 2 representative Janet Beaudoin questioned whether the district had considered partnering with the Citylink public bus system in Lewiston and Auburn to help provide transportation. Langlais responded that the district had talked with city officials about the possibility, however the public bus system is similarly short-staffed. He said it wouldn’t help in the areas the district is short, identifying elementary school transportation as a particular concern.

Langlais said the district has also reached out to private organizations to see whether it may be possible to commission a bus for a day, and found that that was not an option.

Committee Chairwoman Megan Parks questioned whether it might be possible to raise the pay of bus drivers. Langlais responded that the bus drivers are under a contract and that Hudson Bus Lines was already offering a sign-on bonus of at least $1,000.

Advertisement

Langlais said he would provide further information to the school community on the bussing situation in the next several days.

Additionally, Langlais told the committee that school kitchens are also under staffed as numerous people have recently tested positive for COVID-19. Schools will continue to offer meals, however the menu has been reduced to accommodate a smaller staff.

Langlais also reported that 175 staff members, nearly one in five, were absent on Friday. He was concerned when 114 staff members were absent on a different day and remarked that 175 was especially high for the district.

This number represents all absences, including ones related to COVID-19. He questioned whether Veterans Day on Thursday played a part in the elevated absence rate.

Beaudoin said she received a request from a community member and asked whether the district could provide daily or weekly updates on the number of COVID-19 cases in the district. Langlais said he would look into the possibility, but explained that he is concerned about creating additional work for nurses or administrative staff.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.