“There’s somebody out there that this job would work for.”
That’s the message Tracey Rogalski, human resources representative for Lamoille Valley Transportation, is desperately looking to get out this summer before kids return to school this fall.
As Rogalski noted in a May newspaper article on general hiring problems experienced by businesses in Lamoille County across all economic sectors as the pandemic waned, the busing company saw seven drivers retire.
The exodus left Lamoille Valley Transportation, which services bus routes for both Lamoille South Unified Union and Lamoille North Supervisory Union school districts, short on drivers.
Now, in mid-July, the shortage remains. In May, Lamoille Valley Transportation offered a strong salary with a $1,000 signing bonus. Last week, the company was promising $35 an hour along with $1,000 signing bonus for morning and afternoon routes within the county during the school year.
Rogalski says parents themselves would be uniquely suited to the job of busing kids to school.
“One of the new drivers being trained right now is a mom with two younger kids. She gets to stay home with her kids on all the days that they don’t have school and in summertime,” Rogalski said.
Though the company is looking for drivers already certified to drive a bus, the company will provide training and certification for willing applicants.
While Rogalski acknowledged that some may feel reluctant driving a bus in a Vermont winter, she made the argument that driving a bus may be the safest and best way to travel.
“What I hear is, ‘I can’t drive that bus’, and it’s kind of funny because the buses, they’re such heavy vehicles. They actually probably drive better than your car,” she said.
Aside from parents, a return of retired workers, like those who left jobs during the pandemic, is another group Rogalski hopes will apply for the job. She urged potential applicants to also think of it as a chance to serve the local community by providing an essential service.
Schools optimistic, for now
Staffing issues at the bus company aren’t setting off alarm bells in either the southern or northern county school districts — yet.
“It’s actually one of the first things that I had asked our business manager about, because he’s the point person for transportation in the district,” said Ryan Heraty, the newly installed superintendent at Lamoille South Unified Union. “As of now, we haven’t gotten any communication indicating that (Lamoille Valley Transportation) is not going to be able to fill those positions going into the fall.”
Heraty is, however, keeping an eye on the situation to see how things develop.
“If they notify us that they’re unable to fill those positions or they reach a very difficult position, we’ll adjust. We’ll make a plan and hopefully that won’t happen. I’m feeling optimistic that they’ll be able to hire drivers. If not, we’ll adjust and plan as necessary,” he said.
“I am not aware that we will have fewer drivers than last year that might result in a shortage,” Catherine Gallagher, superintendent of Lamoille North Supervisory Union, said in an email.
Rogalski described both school districts as being supportive of the push to hire more drivers.
She also said that, along with morning and afternoon route drivers, her company also needed to bring on drivers to handle transportation of student athletes to and from sporting events, which would overlap with afternoon routes.
“A couple more drivers would help. A few more than that would even be better,” Rogalski said. “What happens is that the routes get shortened, the roads get shortened and we’re not able to service as many families as we could.”
For those who are curious, Rogalski offered a simple invitation. “Come sit in a bus and see what you think. Come sit in that driver’s seat and see how it feels.”