When Massachusetts residents signed up to serve in the Army National Guard, they likely didn't think driving kids to school would be part of their duties. But that's exactly what is happening in the state amid a bus driver shortage.
Faced with a dearth of certified bus drivers at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) activated up to 250 Guard troops this week to make sure kids have a way to get to school.
"Beginning with training on Tuesday, 90 Guard members will prepare for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn [counties]," the governor's office announced Monday, noting that Guardsmen, once trained, will assist local communities by driving children to school in transport vans, known as 7D vehicles.
"The safe and reliable transportation to school each day is critical to our children's safety and education," Baker said in a tweet accompanying the announcement.
The safe and reliable transportation to school each day is critical to our children's safety and education. Today,… https://t.co/KegXRxUYOr— Charlie Baker (@Charlie Baker)1631559044.0
The governor noted that many Guardsmen already have the commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) required to drive the 7D vans.
"We've had conversations with colleagues in municipal governments about the issue with drivers, but nobody was really sure where it was going to land," the governor said, according to WCVB-TV.
"Once it became pretty clear that there were going to be some communities shorthanded — it wasn't going to be a vehicle issue, it was going to be people with CDLs — we started talking to the Guard," he added.
National Guard To Help Transport Students To School In Mass. www.youtube.com
School superintendents are reportedly responding with thankfulness to the governor's order.
"We are grateful and thankful that somebody was definitely thinking out of the box," said Chelsea School Superintendent Almi Abeyta. "When I got the call, I was like 'Oh, that's an interesting solution, yes, OK!'"
Baker noted that the cost of training the drivers will be reimbursed by the federal government since it is an issue spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Similar bus driver shortages have been reported elsewhere in the country — including in Maryland, where Baltimore City Schools is offering to pay parents $250 to drive their own kids to school.
In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools is trying to fill driver openings by offering $3,000 sign-on bonuses in addition to competitive salaries.
According to the Eagle Tribune, a joint survey recently conducted by the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National School Transportation Association found that 51% of respondents described their driver shortage as "severe" or "desperate." Half said pay was a major factor hampering their ability to recruit and retain drivers.