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District facing bus driver shortage Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Tyler B. Reed 508-626-4423 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The school district is short on bus drivers and struggling to find replacements for those announcing retirements, the transportation director said yesterday.

"We can't replenish," said Rick Gallagher, who has begun driving routes to fill gaps in coverage.  "I lost one on the 31st, and I'm going to lose two or three in June."

The district is also running low on substitute drivers, who are mostly retirees and often spend their winters in Florida, Gallagher said.  Without backups to cover for drivers out sick or on leave, transportation department staff - most of them former drivers - have been forced to pinch-hit.

The local driver shortage is indicative of a nationwide trend, Gallagher said, the result of a lengthening list of licenses and exams required to drive school buses.  Those new requirements have deterred applicants, he said.

"It takes a lot to get your license now," he said.

The department has posted a "drivers wanted" advertisement on the district Web site.  Starting pay is $16.37 per hour, Gallagher said.

The pay rate for drivers is "quite good for a part-time job," said Lyn Peterson, managing director of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts.  However, the job has changed in recent years as districts have often asked drivers to make several runs so they can cut the number of buses on the road.

"It was always the stay-at-home mom who needed to supplement the income," Peterson said.  Bus driving is now "more of a full-time job."

The state and federal governments last year began requiring drivers to pass written exams.  To drive a long school bus, employees need a commercial driver's license and two special endorsements from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  Drivers also need a certificate from the federal Department of Telecommunications and Energy.  To earn the DTE certificate, drivers must pass a road test.

Framingham is unique in MetroWest for hiring its own bus drivers, a practice local officials have determined saves money.  In most cases in MetroWest, the company that leases buses to districts provides drivers.

First Student, which leases buses to Framingham, Marlborough, Southborough and Northborough, said the company has not noticed a growing shortage.

"We never stop recruiting," First Student spokesman Jim Quinlan said.  "It's an ongoing process."

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