Bus Driver Shortage Complicates SP-F Student Transportation

By JENNIFER GLACKIN
For Union County HAWK

SCOTCH PLAINS — At last Thursday’s meeting of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education, Business Administrator Christopher Jones said the national bus driver shortage has impacted the district. The district has multiple contingency plans to handle regular disruptions to transportation services, and the district has been able to cover the gaps thus far, although it has been difficult.

According to Mr. Jones, the district’s contracted provider has declined to run routes on an almost daily basis, claiming they “just can’t do it.” On at least one occasion, the bus company has not called the district. Parents called when their child’s bus did not show, which Mr. Jones described as “heart-wrenching.” The district sent a substitute bus, but the students were late to school.

Mr. Jones also said the contracted emergency bus company “won’t honor the rates in their contract” for coverage and all other bus companies with which the district has a relationship have declined to pick up routes. All of these issues have made it “extremely difficult to manage the fleet,” he said.

The district does have two substitute drivers on the custodial staff, one of who currently is filling in full time. The district has advertised for more drivers, but only one qualified candidate applied. Mr. Jones said the district has reached out to some of its retired bus drivers to see if they can come and cover some routes.

Currently, the district’s drivers run multiple routes back-to-back, which has caused some students to be late for school. Mr. Jones said the district is considering shifting school start times to accommodate this situation so students can attend their full school day.

The board approved a district-wide classroom capacity study by Potter Architects. The study will cost $34,860, which will come out of the capital reserve account.

Additionally, the board approved two field trips. Terrill Middle School students will attend a Broadway musical in New York City. An overnight field trip for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) choir to Carnegie Hall in June also was approved. The 18 SPFHS students have been invited to sing Mozart’s Requiem as part of a larger choir to perform on the main stage at Carnegie Hall.

The SPFHS Robotics Club, named Raider Robotics, presented a plan for its competition season with FIRST® Tech Challenge. The club was founded three years ago, and this is its inaugural competition season.

The club placed first in its latest meet and is currently ranked 10th out of 45 teams in the Northeast Edge League. There are 15 competition members, but the club has more than 20 members.

Raider Robotics is actively getting younger students involved in the club. They hosted eighth graders from Terrill Middle School for an interest session and hope to continue their outreach to Malcolm E. Nettingham Middle School. They also have a goal to help introduce robotics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) concepts to elementary students.

Jackson, a senior on the team, told the board his experience in Raider Robotics has inspired his future career. He will major in computer science. “The robotics club really allows me to be hands-on within this field and really has shown me this is where I want to go,” he said.

A competition for the FIRST® Tech Challenge will be held at SPFHS on Sunday, December 12.

The next meeting of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education will be held on Thursday, December 16, at SPFHS.

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