AUGUSTA – At the beginning of last year a lack of substitute school bus drivers caused the elementary school in Swanville to cancel school for a day. On Monday, the Maine Department of Education briefed lawmakers how to recruit and retain drivers.
“The Department of Labor and the Department of Education had some conversations and found ways that they can work together to help districts better advertise for their open positions,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D – South Portland.
A survey done at the end of last year found more than 85 percent of stakeholders said they were facing a bus driver shortage.
The Department of Education highlighted training and the cost of a commercial driver’s license as barriers, something lawmakers said they’ve heard can cost up to $2,500.
“If somebody is just coming in to the field, it’s an expense that they might not necessarily be able to cover,” said Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R – Fairfield.
Other lawmakers said their takeaways from the report are to look into the private sector, and cross training school staff.
“Cyr Bus Lines is a big player for all of our school districts. They cross train their personnel right down to their bus technicians and office staff,” said Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R – Milford.
Lawmakers expressed interest in federal grants to help pay for licenses, something that doesn’t need new legislation. The committee chair said right now there’s not a clear pathway for how a new law could fix the situation.
“Any sort of mandating about salary for bus drivers … would result in the increase in the cost of education which would have an increase on property taxes, so we wouldn’t do anything like that lightly,” said Sen. Millett.