Haverhill Schools Work Around Bus Driver Shortage as Classes Resume Next Week

Haverhill school bus. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Note: Clarifying an earlier report, air conditioning is available in many schools and will remain where it has existed in the past. Installation of new air conditioning in schools where systems are insufficient is not yet complete.

With a new school year of in-person learning beginning next Tuesday, Haverhill school administrators have been working closely with NRT, the bus company that provides the majority of school bus service, to make certain students will be able to get to class on time.

Like many other businesses, NRT is facing a shortage of qualified bus drivers. Company CEO John McCarthy told the School Committee last night his company, like other transportation services across the country, are facing a 20% shortage of drivers qualified to operate large school busses. He said the main reason is increased competition.

“My biggest competition right now is that stimulus check. We’ve been competing with the state government and the federal government for labor but, that being said, the Amazons of the world, the UPSs of the world, that is a challenge,” he said.

McCarthy said he is hopeful that may change somewhat when the stimulus checks run out next month.

Meanwhile, wanting to avoid problems as school gets underway, he and school administrators began looking at some alternatives. School Superintendent Margaret Marotta explained.

“So we called over to Whittier Vo-Tech and spoke to them, and Maureen Lynch very graciously offered to provide essentially a sub-contract with NRT with their buses so that we could make sure that we get our kids going to school on time,” Marotta said.

She went on to say that plan, and adjusting some bus routes, should take care of problems in the short term.

Looking at the longer range, McCarthy told the Committee NRT recently met with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Transportation and the governor’s office where they proposed developing a program with vocational schools and community colleges around the state wherein students seeking related careers could earn credit and income working in the industry.

McCarthy also told the Committee Haverhill is facing another problem later this year. He said because his contract with the city has been in effect for so long, Haverhill pays considerably less for bus service than any other community in the area. The result, he said, is he can only afford to pay Haverhill drivers about $22 per hour while other communities are paying $25-$30 per hour.

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