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Proposed bill looks to ease Maine's school bus driver shortage

LD 1030 looks to get more people certified to drive school buses in Maine.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Districts across the state are having to get creative when it comes to transporting students from one place to another.

"There's been several of us who have driven," Jake Langlais, Lewiston superintendent, said.

"Sometimes for week-long commitments because of the driver shortage," he added.

Now Representative Gary Drinkwater is proposing a bill to try to combat the bus driver shortage.

"Today's bill is just to say, 'Hey, we have a problem. Here are some solutions. Let's go to work and let's fix this problem,'" Drinkwater said.

He's been working with people who are working in the bus industry day after day, including leaders at Cyr Bus in Old Town.

"People are just not coming through the doors to drive a school bus," Melanie Van Aken of Cyr Bus said.

She added that many people who are retired and are looking for a part-time job don't want to go through six months of training to get it.

"We're trying to lessen that, not that we want to make the school buses not safe, because we want them to be safe as always, but the demands are too much," Van Aken said.

For other potential applicants, once they get their commercial license paid for by Cyr, they go drive a truck for more money.

That's why Drinkwater has been working with the Maine Secretary of State's Office on this proposal. The bill is asking the office to apply for waivers from the federal government to try to lessen some of the demands on potential bus drivers. 

The Secretary of State's Office is neutral on this bill.

In testimony, the deputy secretary of state said the office is already working to make the application and testing process faster for school bus drivers, and said it's willing to consider some of these waivers from the federal government.

"We're currently planning to address a handful of issues that we think we could improve within the state and federal laws," the Secretary of State's Office said in its testimony.

Until these issues can be solved, districts like Lewiston will continue to struggle.

"We're still facing daily cancellations," Langlais said.

He added it's been hard, but families in his district have been understanding.

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