AUGUSTA- After an elementary school in Swanville was forced to close because of the shortage of regular and substitute bus drivers, one lawmaker wants to make sure that never happens again.
Getting children to school is almost as important as the actual classroom teaching.
But obstacles — such as the lower wages, broken up daily schedules and the 10-week summer break — do not make being a bus driver seem attractive, according to Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast.
“We need to do something to make this job more enticing. It is an honorable industry. “It’s a really important job and we need to do more with compensation through training or other ways to make sure we get more people into this industry,” Herbig said.
Gerry French, a bus driver for Regional School Unit 71 and vice chairman of RSU 21’s school board, said the summer vacation causes a three-month layoff during which no money is coming in.
“It makes it impossible for bus drivers to fill those 10 weeks in the summertime and some of the weeks that schools are not in sessions. Bills still need to be paid and we need a steady stream of income to do that,” French said.
The Waldo County senator’s proposal would enable public school bus drivers to collect unemployment benefits during the summer.
Herbig’s bill also would create a fund to award grants to schools for bus driver training.
“This bill actually represents a great start and I think that passage of this bill is a good launch pad for creating what we need in the school systems to set up for support services,” French said.
Herbig said she places a big emphasis on getting kids safely to school.
“You can’t place a value on the precious cargo that rides to and from school on the school bus every day,” Herbig said.
“Our bus drivers provide that service to deliver our kids safely and we need to do everything we can to support them and value them and get more people into this industry. I think it is a really important part of how we protect our kids right now,” she said.