AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislators here have introduced a bill that aims to mitigate the school bus driver shortage in the state by expanding access to unemployment benefits and awarding training grants.
LD 1641, introduced by Sen. Erin Herbig, would allow public school bus drivers to collect unemployment benefits over the summer and create a fund to award districts with grants for training for school bus drivers between academic years.
In a public hearing on the bill on May 13, Herbig said that the school bus driver shortage “is particularly serious in some rural communities like mine,” and added that office assistants and custodians are being asked to drive routes.
Two public school bus drivers provided testimony in support of the bill, according to news source VillageSoup. One, Cindy Ludden, who drives for Regional School Unit 3, said that more than one-third of the district’s drivers are receiving social security payments and “could be done working at the drop of a hat.” She added that obtaining unemployment when there is no work “would help people get from paycheck to paycheck and allow them to return to work, driving the school bus year after year.”
Also providing testimony on the bill at the hearing was Pat Hinckley, the transportation and facilities administrator at the Maine Department of Education. Hinckley expressed concerns that provisions in LD 1641 may create an opportunity for outside entities with funding to have influence over the training.
“Opening the door to gifts of money from private entities has potential to influence training decisions, result in decisions made based on favors, instead of making training decisions based on course safety content, quality, strategic planning, and instructor ability,” Hinckley’s testimony stated.
The bill is currently awaiting further review from the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, according to the state Legislature website.
Maine lawmakers are also considering a handful of other school bus safety bills primarily addressing illegally passing a stopped school bus. Those bills, which were introduced earlier this year, are still under review by state agencies, Adam Mayo, transportation director for Maine School Administrative District 75 and president elect of the Maine Association for Pupil Transportation, told School Bus Fleet.