BUCKFIELD — A lack of school bus drivers in Regional School Unit 10’s Nezinscot Region is causing some of their drivers to double-up on several routes this week in the Buckfield and Hartford-Sumner area.

Scott Holmes, director of buildings, grounds and transportation in Regional School Unit 10, said by email this week that the number of bus drivers is down by a third. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times file

In order to make up for the current shortage, drivers are combining six runs by picking up children on one route, taking them to school, then turning back around again to complete another bus run, Superintendent Deb Alden said on Monday.

To alleviate some of the issues of the longer pick-up and drop-off times for children on the bus routes, parents are asked to bring and pick up their children from school if they can do so.

The Nezinscot area includes Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, Hartford-Sumner Elementary School and the students of those towns, while the district includes five other schools located in the towns of Rumford and Mexico.

According to a phone call and email on Monday with Superintendent Deb Alden and Scott Holmes, the director of buildings, grounds and transportation, the Nezinscot Region has nine bus routes and three unfilled job openings for bus drivers to cover those routes.

Currently, two bus drivers are out of work on medical leave and another driver is out after coming down with COVID-19. Two substitute drivers are also out of work because they are quarantined due to being close contacts with other people who’ve come down with coronavirus.

According to an email from Holmes, the entire district is “down a third of our workforce,” from 36 employed drivers to 24.

In the Mountain Valley Region, which includes the towns of Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury and Hanover, there are 18 bus runs and they are currently without three of their regular bus drivers, due to one person with a long-term medical illness and two drivers having COVID-19.

“We have five ‘spare’ drivers and one of them has COVID. So, we have one spare (driver) left to cover any illness, vacation or other issues,” Holmes said.

As an incentive to attract prospective bus driver employees, the district offers a sign-on bonus and will pay (prospective employees) to get their bus drivers’ license, Alden said.

“We don’t really have many subs, but what ends up happening is that our director Scott Holmes ends up having to drive runs all the time, which really throws us off because then if you’ve got issues within the Facilities and Transportation department, it’s a problem,” she said. “So, it’s really tough.”

However, Alden notes, “the big issue is there is only so many people that are qualified to go around. There are not enough people with bus driver licenses in the state of Maine. I don’t think that any of us as superintendents want to just rob (bus-driver employees) from each other.”

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