New Milford school bus routes affected this week due to bus driver shortage: ‘It’s been a nightmare’

Photo of Currie Engel

NEW MILFORD — The bus driver shortage affecting schools nationwide hit home in New Milford this week.

Students who travel to New Milford High School on bus 12 had to find a different way to get to school Wednesday morning after their bus driver was unable to drive the route. Some elementary and middle school students won’t be able to take the bus at certain times this week, too.

A message went out to parents Tuesday night, and word spread on social media. A notice posted on the high school website Wednesday alerted parents to the extent of the service disruption.

Laurie Thornton, a district secretary who works in the fiscal services department and often deals with transportation calls, said the bus driver had a family emergency that required them to miss work. With the bus driver shortage, no one was available to fill in. It is unknown when the driver will be able to return, Thornton said.

Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo said this is the first time New Milford schools have felt the shortage.

“In the past, we had more bus drivers who could come in and fill in,” Thornton said. “We don’t have that. We don’t have anybody.”

DiCorpo said the school was notified Wednesday morning that additional afternoon bus routes for “a few buses” will be affected this week while All-Star Transportation — the district’s bus company — tries to find more drivers.

“We do anticipate that there may be periods of time in the future, while All-Star is onboarding new drivers that there may be adjustments to bus routes and or times when there are no drivers available,” DiCorpo said in an email.

All-Star serves several districts, including Newtown, Brookfield, Torrington and Ansonia. Some bus routes in Newtown were changed before the start of the school year.

In New Milford, the company combined two high school routes to allow a driver to fill in for bus 12, according to an update from All-Star’s terminal coordinator Patty Cote, posted on the school website.

High school students on bus 12 could ride the bus on Wednesday afternoon and throughout this week in the morning and afternoon. But there was no bus on Wednesday afternoon for Sarah Noble Intermediate School who ride bus 12.

Thornton said when one bus driver is out, it creates a “domino” effect on the rest of the system.

Thornton said they’re hoping for a resolution “as soon as possible.”

“It’s been a nightmare,” she said. “It’s just been really hard.”

Thornton added All-Star is working with the school to fill in the gaps.

A nationwide shortage hits home

Nationwide, 26 million children rely on school buses to get them to and from school, the National School Transportation Association reported in May. With a dearth of bus drivers, the reverberations are felt almost everywhere.

School districts from Boston to Montana and Pennsylvania are offering bonuses for drivers, monetary incentives for parents to drive their kids and pushing back the start of the school day to allow kids more time to arrive.

An August survey from the National School Transportation Association found that just over half of school respondents described their driver shortage as “severe” or “desperate,” with about three in four saying the shortage is getting “much worse” or “a little worse.” About two-thirds said the shortage was their main problem or concern.

In Connecticut, the shortage has hit several districts.

Brookfield Superintendent John Barile said the shortage of bus drivers has not affected his schools, adding Wednesday was only the fifth day of school.

Like New Milford, Brookfield uses All-Star for transportation services, and Barile said they are preparing for shortages, particularly with after-school sports buses.

DiCorpo wrote a letter to families assuring them of the district’s efforts to find a replacement.

“Please know that I understand what a difficult situation this puts families in and we certainly understand the undue stress it places on you,” read the letter posted Wednesday on the district’s website. “In an effort to help, my office has reached out to several transportation companies, even those out of state, to see if these runs can be covered for this week, but they are unable to do so as they too are facing driver shortages.”

The update from All-Star, which was included in DiCorpo’s message, stated that high school students on bus 27 would ride bus 14 for the remainder of the week and possibly on Monday, as well. On Wednesday, there was no afternoon service on bus 12 from Sarah Noble Intermediate School, as well as bus 16 from both the high school and Sarah Noble.

Bus 12 from Sarah Noble, bus 16 from Sarah Noble and the high school, and bus 33 from Sarah Noble and Schaghticoke Middle School won’t run on Thursday afternoon.

Friday afternoon bus interruptions include bus 12 from Sarah Noble, as well as bus 16 routes from Sarah Noble and the high school.