School bus drivers

Kennett High students get off the bus to begin the school day. (JAMIE GEMMITIPHOTO)

CONWAY — The Conway School Board voted Nov. 27 to increase the pay of substitute bus drivers by 22 percent effective Dec. 8

The sub drivers had made $18 an hour since July 1, 2008.

On Nov. 25, the school board unanimously raised that pay to $22 an hour.

Board member Courtney Burke was absent.

The school district and others like it around the country have been struggling with a bus driver shortage.

In September, Superintendent Kevin Richard said he’d heard that New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut had formed a task force to look into the problem.

“Talking with superintendents across the state, they are having a huge, huge issue finding drivers,” Richard noted.

On Nov. 27, Gredel Shaw, transportation coordinator for SAU 9, told the Sun by email that full-time drivers transport students on daily bus routes but the challenge is to find enough subs to ensure teams can get to sports events.

At a school board meeting in September, Shaw said a home soccer match scheduled with Berlin had to be postponed because the other school couldn’t find a driver.

“Unfortunately, things have not gotten better since September,” Shaw said Nov. 27. “We have actually lost two more drivers since (then) — that’s not including the two bus drivers that retired in June.

“While we have had some interest from people in town wanting to be trained to be a bus driver, it can be a long process and we have not gained the number of new spare/substitute drivers that we would like to have. We only have a couple that will be going forward with the training. But, thankfully, we have been able to fill the full time route positions.”

The board voted to elect Jeffrey Ratigan to the position of bus driver starting Dec. 9.

He replaces Denny Cromwell, who is retiring.

Ratigan, who is properly licensed, was the sole applicant for the job.

Ratigan will be paid $18 per hour while Cromwell was paid $18.10 per hour.

Shaw, on Wednesday told the Sun, there are 15 regular route drivers for Conway, Bartlett, Jackson and Eaton on a daily basis.

The number of substitutes has “dropped drastically” to eight being available during the winter months. In September, there were 13 spare bus drivers.

“I have lost a couple drivers who have phased out or chosen to no longer drive a school bus,” said Shaw.

“Additionally, some of our subs are snowbirds and have gone or will go south for the winter, or take other winter jobs elsewhere during ski season.

“Many of the subs that will be driving for us this winter have other jobs, so they are only available during certain times.”

Shaw said there are about 115 after-school or weekend sports trips to fill for the winter season so far and it will be “tight” to manage that with only eight sub drivers.

“SAU 9 is very lucky to have such a wonderful group of drivers,” she added.

“They all work very hard to fulfill the trips and meet the needs of the schools, but there will come a time that we won’t be able to find drivers to drive the trips.”

However, with the recently voted pay increase, Shaw said: “Hopefully that, coupled with the free training, will entice people to apply.”

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