AUBURN — After a rocky year marked by reoccurring bus run cancellations due to staffing shortages, the Auburn school district transportation department is almost fully staffed with less than a month before the first day of classes, the School Committee learned Tuesday night.
Last spring, Auburn schools had just 13 bus drivers, according to Auburn Deputy Director of Public Works Scott Holland. Due to the shortage, bus runs had to be canceled when drivers called out sick, often leading to last-minute notifications to families.
Now, the department has 23 drivers, a couple of whom are still in training to receive their commercial driver’s license. The district has just two vacancies left to fill, according to Holland.
“At this point, even minus two drivers we are way better off,” Holland said. “We’re going to easily be able to double-up the runs until we can hire those other two positions. We’ve been working really, really hard at that.”
Last spring, the school district created an in-house driver training program. It enables individuals to be employed by the district as they complete the steps necessary to earn their commercial driver’s license and drive a school bus. The district additionally covers all of the costs for obtaining the license.
The Public Works Department assumed management responsibilities for the school district’s transportation and maintenance departments in February following the retirement of the district’s director of student support services retired.
With just several weeks until the start of school, Superintendent Cornelia Brown told the School Committee she has begun moving teachers to “emergency positions.”
She told the committee she has already moved a teacher each from Fairview and Walton elementary schools to the middle school. She plans to move an additional teacher from Sherwood Heights Elementary School.
In order to move teachers to the middle school, administrators plan to consolidate classes at the elementary level, Brown said.
“That’s unpopular, but we have to do it,” she said.
Brown praised the teachers who agreed to make the move, acknowledging the difficulty of changing grades and curriculums weeks before classes start.
More teachers will be asked to fill critical vacancies in the coming days. “We have to have classroom teachers,” Brown said.
The district is continuing to make new hires as the school year approaches, she added.