Amid a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, local school districts are offering bonuses to bring them on board. File photo
A widespread bus driver shortage has driven local school districts to offer sign-up bonuses.

Gorham School Department is advertising a $2,000 sign-up bonus to attract drivers, but Transportation Director Norm Justice said Tuesday the offer has netted only one hire so far.

Scarborough is offering $3,000 to sign up and Regional School Unit 21 — encompassing Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport — is paying $1,500. Bonny Eagle is paying a $1,000 retention bonus to keep its drivers on the payroll.

“We’re still short about three drivers,” Justice said Tuesday as his department gears up for school opening day next week.

To plug vacancies, Justice turned to contract services with Dirigo Bus Lines in Gorham to provide  three bus drivers and two van drivers.

The Bonny Eagle district is down four bus drivers.

“However, we have three in training and continue to interview,” Bonny Eagle Transportation Director Dottie Muchmore said Tuesday. “We will be able to transport all students safely to and from school beginning Sept. 1.”

Muchmore’s drivers earn between $18.48 and $21.42 plus benefits.

Justice said hourly wages for bus drivers in Gorham range from $19.66 to $23.81 depending on experience plus benefits. Part-time driver substitutes earn $23 per hour.

Westbrook’s transportation director, Melissa Foye, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the district is looking for more bus drivers, too.
“We have open positions,” said 20-year driver Denise Watt, adding that her “bonus” is driving the kids.

The local school districts are not struggling alone with the shortage.

“This is a national and statewide shortage that has been ongoing for several years, but made more difficult by COVID 19,” Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry said Tuesday.

Perry said many districts, like Gorham, offer fully paid training programs where potential candidates can “earn to learn.”

“In other words, we’ll pay them a full hourly rate to attend classes and put the road time in to pass their test to get their CDL license,” Perry said.

Sarah Redmond, Scarborough transportation director, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

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