Westbrook buses line up for the start of school. Robert Lowell / American Journal

A chronic shortage of school bus drivers is beginning to turn a corner in Maine as some school districts in Cumberland County have an adequate number to transport students when the school year starts.

Sarah Marean, transportation director at SAD 6, said the shortage of school bus drivers is a national issue and was growing “in scope well before COVID.”

“The pandemic certainly exacerbated an already challenging situation. Bonny Eagle is no exception,” Marean said.

The district has five towns – Buxton, Frye Island, Hollis, Limington and Standish – and once had 60 drivers to handle the large geographic area.

The Bonny Eagle district last year employed 31 bus drivers. Transportation office staff and mechanics filled in, Marean said, but were still unable to cover all routes despite drivers traveling nearly a million miles. The district has hired 10 additional drivers this year, seven of whom will be “trained, licensed and ready to roll” on the first day of school.

“I remain cautiously optimistic that we are posed to better serve the students in our community for the 23-24 school year,” Marean said.


South Portland Superintendent Timothy Matheney said his district will have 21 drivers on board when school opens and needs two more.

“I’m optimistic that we will have enough drivers to staff our transportation system, but it will be a tight staffing margin,” Matheney said.

Diane Boucher, finance and operations director at SAD 15, said the district has eight of an ideal 13 drivers. It has caused them to “slightly modify school start and end times to accommodate some longer routes.”

“We are making do,” she said. “We have continued great support from our parents.”

They are continuing to advertise for the open positions.

Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia said they are “holding our own.” The district has 14 bus driver positions with three unfilled, as well as five van positions with a shortage of three drivers.


At RSU 14, the Windham and Raymond district, co-Director of Transportation Sharon Leeman said, “We’re doing okay,” with enough drivers to start school. Leeman said it has 24 drivers now and “we could use a few more.”

Gorham helped fill its driver ranks with a $2,000 hiring bonus.

“I hate to jinx myself but our driver situation is the best it’s been in years,” Norm Justice, Gorham transportation director, said. “We are currently fully staffed with 26 bus drivers, two of which are full-time spares.”

Justice anticipates a couple of openings this year due to retirements. He attributes success in recruiting bus drivers to banners placed on school buses parked in lots along well-traveled highways.

Westbrook and South Portland have training programs but do not offer a sign-on bonus. Matheney said South Portland does provide a referral incentive to employees recommending prospective bus drivers who are hired. Bonny Eagle offers a retention bonus to help keep its drivers.

This story was updated on Aug. 23 to include comments from Diane Boucher on SAD 15.

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