With the first two weeks of school now on the books, School Superintendent Margaret Marotta says, with one exception, the process has gone relatively smoothly. That one exception is, as it was last year, transportation.
Speaking at Thursday night’s School Committee meeting, Marotta said there is a positive attitude at the schools this year.
“Inside the schools, the attitudes are good. People are excited to be back. Teachers and students alike seem happy, ready to learn and ready to go,” she said.
Regarding transportation, Marotta said the first week went very well, in part, because other schools had not begun yet, leaving plenty of buses and drivers available for Haverhill students. Now, however, with other school districts back in session, problems have cropped up.
Assistant Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling added even with significant pre-planning and communication with parents, it is very difficult to overcome a driver shortage.
“It has been a very difficult time. For 34 big buses, we were short three drivers all week. Add to that, our special education drivers. We have five drivers currently out with COVID,” he noted.
Pfifferling said the five local drivers begin returning to the job next week, but the shortage will remain an issue until NRT, the company that provides the service, can hire more drivers. Until then, he said, the company is forced to double up routes, which creates delays.
“When you’re short three drivers, you have to double up routes. So, they will take a bus into, just say Nettle, and then they’ll go back and get another group of kids for Nettle. Well, if that bus is now supposed to go to Golden Hill, it’s now already behind schedule and that has rippling effects throughout the day,” he explained.
Pfifferling said a meet for the Haverhill Swim team was postponed because there was no bus available to get them there on time. He said he was concerned the situation will only worsen as the hours of available daylight lessens.
Last month, prior to the start of the school year, a spokesman for NRT told the Committee there are four additional drivers who are expected to complete their commercial driver’s license training by the end of September and be assigned to Haverhill.