Haverhill Schools to Receive National Guard Help This Week to Drive Mini Vans and Mini Buses

National Guard members look inside a school passenger van during a training in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. (Courtesy photograph by Dave Wilkinson, Mass. National Guard.)

Haverhill joins Lawrence and other communities across the state in getting help from the National Guard driving school transport vans in light of a national driver shortage.

Six National Guard bus drivers are expected this week to drive minivans and minibuses—not full-size buses, but the assistance frees up to two drivers with Commercial Drivers’ Licenses, Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling notified the School Committee Friday.

“This is a very short-term solution and we do not foresee any real relief until (school bus contractor) NRT is able to onboard additional CDL drivers,” Pfifferling wrote.

A Saturday meeting between Pfifferling and NRT’s John McCarthy tentatively decided to use a combination of NRT’s minibuses and the school department’s vans to fill in as many gaps as possible. Minibuses accommodate up to 20 students, while vans are limited to six students. The School Committee may meet in emergency session to consider nearly $20,000 in additional vehicle-related costs plus an unknown extra sum for six bus monitors.

The assistant superintendent said the numbers of students requiring specialized student transportation has increased, but the school system has been “hit hardest” on certain tiers, such as preschool and TEACH programs.

Gov. Charlie Baker activated the National Guard earlier this month to help transport children to school amid shortages of bus drivers, with 7D licenses, in some districts. The action made up to 250 Guard members available.

Haverhill will have National Guard assistance until Nov. 5 at the latest.

Pfifferling said Haverhill schools are currently short six-10 large bus drivers on any given day, but six had been covered temporarily by Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. Help from Whittier ends Oct. 8 as the school requires the drivers to meet its own needs.

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