Driver shortage leaves students late for school

HOLLIS – Some students in both Hollis and Brookline were more than 30 minutes late to school on their first day due to a shortage of bus drivers, according to district officials.

These students were also more than half an hour late getting home on Tuesday.

The Hollis, Brookline and Co-Op districts, SAU 41, contract with Hollis Transportation Inc. for bus services. The schools have done so for a number of years, according to Superintendent Andrew Corey.

“We were aware they were struggling to get drivers, but we thought we were OK” going into the school term, Corey said Wednesday.

However, after students on Bus No. 13 in Hollis and Bus No. 9 in Brookline were 30 minutes late to the start of the first day, the district learned that the bus company had “unexpectedly lost a driver.” This left school officials scrambling to rework the existing bus routes.

Parties from the schools, the administration and the bus company “met to problem-solve and critically think about a resolution that would allow our students to arrive before school starts so as to not miss any part of the school day,” SAU officials stated in an email to parents Wednesday afternoon.

According to the contract signed by the transportation company and the district, “the district reserves the right to make changes in bus routes, scheduling, bus stops and student pick-up lists when such changes are in the best interest of the district and its students.”

The devised plan involves some buses essentially doubling up on routes. For example, students riding Bus No. 8 in Hollis are now being picked up at 7:30 a.m., approximately 15 minutes earlier than before, so the bus can get to the school by 7:50 a.m., unload and then go pick up other students. The same bus is also on the “late run” schedule in the afternoons, not leaving the schools until 3:25 p.m., meaning some children will not be dropped off until nearly 4 p.m. – an hour after school dismissal.

Other buses only experienced minor changes by one or two minutes, while others, such as Bus No. 13, have changes just in the morning, not the afternoon.

Some bus stops were reworked into other routes, school officials said, and all impacted riders have already been notified.

The plan is in effect, and will remain so until Hollis Transportation can train three new bus drivers, which should take a few weeks, Corey said Wednesday.

There are no changes to busing for either Hollis Brookline Middle School or Hollis Brookline High School.

“We are working to address it, and believe it will get better in the coming weeks,” Corey said.

However, one parent said in an email there have been consistent bus troubles, with late buses or especially long routes, for the last five years or so.

“Many families are opting to carpool, rather than have their child on the bus for close to an hour after school when they live less than 10 minutes away. Other families don’t have that option due to school schedules,” she said.

However, she added, most parents do not blame the bus drivers for the delays.

Officials with the bus company did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.