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Portland school board approves $3,000 bonus to address bus driver shortage

School officials are hoping to mitigate a transportation crisis by incentivizing drivers, creating carpool programs and chartering buses to get students to schools.

PORTLAND, Maine — School leaders in Maine's largest city approved a measure for a $3,000 sign-on bonus to address a serious shortage of school bus drivers Tuesday night. 

The Portland Board of Education voted in favor of the measure to entice more people to get behind the wheel.

According to Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana, the district is experiencing a shortage of workers across the board, from custodians to food service to substitute teachers.

Right now the transportation department is about 80% staffed, but Botana says they need to be fully staffed. 

"As you know we are daily on the verge of not being able to run our full transportation schedule and yesterday we experienced the first of the cancellations that we've been predicting," Botana said at Tuesday night's meeting. "While things worked out as smoothly as we could have asked for ... the single largest mitigation that we can put in place is ensuring that we are fully staffed."

Officials also signed off on new policies to allow students to be transported by staff or volunteers in private vehicles.

The new policies require parental consent and include language that ensures staff cannot be alone with a single student.

As for the financial incentive to get more bus drivers, board members are optimistic it will pay off. 

"I hope that it is a gateway for people to experience that Portland Public Schools is a great place to work," Adam Burk said. "That this is one of the gestures that the board is more than happy to make to help people realize that."