School bus blues: Bus and driver shortage cause student waitlist

Sep 14, 2021

Some students are struggling to get to school because there are not enough seats on Wareham buses for every student who wants or needs a ride. Administrators say that everyone who signed up by the deadline got a seat.

At the Sept. 9 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said that there is a waiting list for the bus at all schools. 

Not every student who has a seat on a bus is using it, Shaver-Hood said. Staff are in the process of contacting those students’ families and, if possible, giving those seats to other kids who need them. 

Shaver-Hood didn’t have an exact number for how many students were on the waitlist, but said that the demand for different routes varies widely: Some buses have four students on a waitlist, while others might have 25 students waiting for a seat.

Right now, the school district only has two spare buses. 

The district has been successful in hiring several new drivers — even during a nationwide shortage — by increasing wages. Committee member Joyce Bacchicocchi said Wareham is now at the “top of the pack” in terms of bus driver compensation.

“Our bus drivers are very loyal. They’re very accommodating,” Shaver-Hood said. “We have several retired drivers who have come back and who are still driving for us because they know we need the help. So we’ve been very fortunate with that.”

She said the bus drivers are “great people who are committed to our students. We just need to find more.”

But, Shaver-Hood said, the district still needs more drivers and more buses. She said she’s been “combing the internet” for used buses that are in decent condition.

The other problem the district faces is getting families to sign their students up on time for spots on the school bus. Sign-ups began in April, she said, and the deadline was extended. Parents were reminded by email and through Facebook, Shaver-Hood said.

Shaver-Hood said that the district has struggled for years to get parents to sign up on time for bus service. Committee member Apryl Rossi asked whether bus sign-ups could be on an opt-out, rather than opt-in basis, but Shaver-Hood said the district had tried that in the past, and parents didn’t opt-out promptly, either.

As for the suggestion that buses could make multiple runs for a single school, Shaver-Hood said that there isn’t enough time between school start times to allow that to happen.

She said the district is doing “everything short of calling an Uber” to get kids to school.