Shortage of school bus drivers called a ‘crisis’

BAR HARBOR — With just four weeks before the new school year begins, Mount Desert Island High School is facing a shortage of bus drivers that Principal Matt Haney describes as a “crisis.”

“We’re pretty much down to one or two drivers right now,” he said. “It would be great to have between seven and 10 consistent drivers.”

The high school’s drivers don’t take students to and from school; that’s the responsibility of the towns in the school district. Rather, the high school buses are used to take students to athletic events, music and drama competitions and various other events and activities throughout the year.

“It takes three buses to go to a football game,” Haney said.

The first away game on this year’s football schedule is Sept. 6 at Old Town.

“All across the state and the country, bus drivers are becoming more of a rare commodity, and that’s become particularly true for us,” Haney said. “Four drivers who had been regulars for us have left since last year because of retirement or moving away or other situations.”

The high school currently has five buses and will be getting another one this fall.

Several of the elementary schools in the MDI Regional School System have struggled to hire and retain bus drivers from time to time. But, in general, it’s less of a challenge for them than for the high school, because the elementary school drivers work regular hours for the most part.

“At the high school, we’re basically hiring people on an as-needed basis, so there are no consistent hours and no benefits,” Haney said.

The high school pays drivers $15 an hour.

“For most drivers, it really has to be a second income or a retirement gig,” Haney said. “With most of the people we’re losing, it’s because they have already retired from their career and now they’re retiring from their retirement gig.”

Bus driver class

To help alleviate the high school’s bus driver shortage, MDI Adult & Community Education is offering a special class this month for people who are interested in becoming a driver.

The class, which begins Aug. 7, will meet once a week for four weeks. It will be taught by T.J. Paulos, a bus driver at Mount Desert Elementary School.

“It’s not so much a bus driving training class as it is a program to help potential drivers navigate the state regulations,” Paulos said.

School bus drivers in Maine must be at least 21 years old and have a commercial driver’s license with a school bus operation endorsement. Before receiving that license, an applicant must pass three written tests, a road test and a physical exam.

“I’ll help [prepare them] for the written tests and help them get set up with appointments to take their physical,” Paulos said.

There is no charge for taking the class. But there are fees for the required tests and physical exam.

“For those who complete the course successfully and wind up driving for us, we will reimburse them those fees,” Haney said.

For more information about the class or to register, call MDI Adult & Community Education at 288-4703.

“I think it’s a great job,” Haney said of driving a bus for the high school. “I don’t know why more people aren’t getting into it. I don’t think it’s because it’s something they don’t enjoy because it’s pretty rewarding taking kids around to places they want to be.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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