NEW MILFORD — Sherman resident Jessica Williams has grown very frustrated over the past few months with her 5-year-old son’s school bus, or lack thereof.

“It’s a sore subject here,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time my son took a bus – January I think?”

The New Milford and Sherman school districts, which share the same transportation company, continue to be challenged by shortage of bus drivers.

New Milford Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo sent a letter to parents earlier this week saying that while All Star Transportation, their contracted transportation company, has at least six people trained to become drivers, that training and certification can take several weeks. But the company continues to face a shortage, forcing many parents to drive their children to school or find transportation.

“The transport provider shared that they had tried to contact other bus depots and there were no drivers available. All-Star was also open to the suggestion of possibly bundling rides with other buses, but that may not be possible,” DiCorpro said.

According to NMPS Transportation Website, on Wednesday, due to the accelerated early layoff, late afternoon trips were not scheduled for five buses that were previously supposed to have them. Parents have been asked to contact the school location regarding their pickup plans.

In response to the shortage, New Milford is working with All-Star to provide a late bus arrival option for students in the morning, as well as a later pick-up time for the afternoon.

The district also offers an early morning drop-off option for buses that do not run on time each morning. New Milford Schools held their first early drop-off on Wednesday.

Parent frustration

Williams, who runs a bookkeeping business, said that over the past few months, due to the bus shortage, she had been ‘forced to stop my workday at 2.45pm and pick up my son during his tax season.

“(I) finally signed up for the after-school program (at the Sherman School), at $25 a day, which meant $500 in extra expenses that I wasn’t counting on,” she said.

She said her son, who is in kindergarten, loves riding the bus with his friends “and then BAM! His favorite part of the day was washed away.

She said the shortage of bus drivers forced her to work random hours, weekends and whenever she could.

New Milford resident Stacey Perrenod, who has an eighth grade student, said she was also inconvenienced by the driver shortage.

“I have to pick him up or hire someone else every afternoon so he’s not stuck at school until 4:20 p.m. followed by a 40-minute bus ride,” she said. declared.

She said she considered the late arrival option “unacceptable”.

She said last week when her son took the last school bus, which had a 9 a.m. pickup time, he missed many subjects.

“How does a school think it’s okay to miss core subjects? It can make up work, yes, but does it make up for missed live learning?” she says.

Attract new drivers

Steve Gardner, general manager of All Star Transportation, said there were 59 bus drivers this school year for the New Milford School District.

In previous years, that number was in the 60s, Gardner said.

“We’re still way behind the 8-ball of two years ago, personnel-wise,” he said, adding that a lot of that is down to COVID-19.

“Many of them were retirees. It was a stage in their life where they didn’t need to take that risk. They may have had health issues,” he said.

He said, however, that “if everyone (staff) came to work, everything would be fine”.

“The issue is more about the number of drivers who can’t get to work,” said Gardner, manager of 18 locations in the state.

During the winter months, many employees called in sick. Some had COVID, others were on family medical leave. Some have sick children and can’t come to work, Gardner said.

He added that there are usually one or two additional drivers who serve as backups.

“Right now we’re trying to beef up our support pilots who are spares,” he said.

However, All Star did not offer special incentives to attract new drivers, as that would simply drive them away from other districts that need them just as much, he said.

“A lot of companies have made a sign-up bonus for drivers who already have licenses. We decided not to because all of this is just stealing drivers from a city and creating a problem with drivers. other cities around you,” he said.

The four to six weeks of training that all new drivers have to go through is “another downside,” Gardner said.

Although drivers are paid for the training, it lasts 10 to 12 hours per week, so drivers do not receive a full day’s pay during this time.

“People don’t want to wait that long to get full pay,” he said.

He said the company is always interested in hiring new drivers. There are no new requirements for drivers than in the past.

“We continue to advertise on our normal advertising methods – Indeed, Facebook, newspapers, radio ads. We go to job fairs all the time,” Gardner said. “We hit hard. It’s just trying to find people to do it, it’s very difficult.

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