AUBURN — A resident asked school officials Wednesday night to call former bus drivers to inquire why they left the their jobs.

“Why don’t you contact all of the lost drivers in the last two years?” Moe Galarneau asked officials during the School Committee meeting. “Call ’em up, have a subcommittee, two of three people, four people, call the drivers and say, ‘why did you leave? Was it wages? Was it benefits? Was it personnel?’ Find out. If you don’t know what the problem is, how are you going to fix it?”

In a previous meeting, Galarneau told the School Committee he drove buses for 22 years, but is not a current staff member of the Auburn school district.

“We’re spending $120 million on a new high school,” he said. “In two years, the kids going to school will have to walk because you won’t have any bus drivers. At the last meeting, well, you said you’re in contract with the union. I firmly believe, even with a contract with the union, it’s not going to help you … what are we going to do different to change what’s going on?”

By his calculations, the Auburn school district was the most short-staffed for bus drivers compared to six local districts. It was not clear where he got information about bus drivers from other districts.

His impassioned speech was at times marred by unwelcome remarks to the board, one of which was directed at the chairwoman’s name.

Advertisement

“Does anybody know the difference between a requirement and asking someone?” he said, referencing the three-minute limit for public participation. “This says you’re asking for three minutes. Request denied. I won’t take 10 minutes, but I need to make that point so please do not shut me off after three minutes.”

After five minutes, Chairwoman Karen Mathieu asked him to wrap up his speech, pointing to the committee’s three-minute policy.

“I have to ask you to rely on the elected officials who are up here,” she said. “We know there’s an issue, and unfortunately I can’t discuss what goes on in public with some of the issues that we are working through. But we are well aware of this issue, and we are working tirelessly to support bus drivers.”

Two members of the committee found some merit in his plea and asked if the committee might be able to make more information about the issue available to the public.

“I think that parents also have concerns about the bus situation,” Ward 1 representative Clarisa Perez-Armendariz said. “I know that there are conversations that are not public, but I think there’s probably some information that can be shared with the public, at least about why we are having this shortage and what kinds of things are being done.”

Ward 2 representative Pamela Hart asked Mathieu if she could find out whether any exit interviews were conducted with former bus drivers.

Advertisement

In another matter, Assistant Superintendent Sue Dorris shared a report about absenteeism and COVID-19 in the district since returning from winter break.

The district has begun a “test to stay” program, where school staff are able to test students who show symptoms of COVID-19, with permission from their parents. If the test result is negative, the students are able to remain in school.

Several tests have been administered this week for the new program, she said.

In the last two and a half weeks, 99 positive cases were recorded, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. The bulk of the positives were recorded last week, a total of 76 cases.

Dorris also shared absentee data since Jan. 4, which she said were higher than previous weeks in December.

The student absentee rate was 15.45% and the staff was 8.81%.

Advertisement

The district is beginning to track community health-related absences from students and staff and must submit a report to the Maine Center for Disease Control if the rate for any individual school climbs above 15%. This has not yet happened, Dorris said.

The Edward Little High School construction advances Jan. 14 as dozens of workers tackle all aspects of the project on Harris Street in Auburn. The $104.7 million project began in March and is expected to finish by the start of the 2023-24 school year. The old school, background, will eventually be demolished and new athletic fields built. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Mathieu shared an update from the new Edward Little High School building committee.

“Short and sweet, we are on time, on budget, but need to be mindful of the fact that when the old Edward Little High School comes down, that what has been budgeted may not be enough.

There are more polychlorinated biphenyls — commonly known as PCBs, a dangerous environmental contaminant — in the old high school than budgeted for, she said.

Editors Note: A previous version of this article attributed a quote requesting more information about the bus driver shortage be made public to at large representative Pamela Albert. It was in fact Ward 1 representative Clarisa Perez-Armendariz who made the request. 

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.