FRAMINGHAM – The Framingham Public School District will start the school year on September 1 with 67 bus drivers, 10 short of its contract with new vendor NRT Bus Inc., said the Framingham Public Schools Executive Director of Finance and Operations Lincoln Lynch IV to the School Committee tonight, August 25.
The public school district had a rocky relationship with Durham over its last 5-year contract, with late buses and no buses for athletics at times, and was hoping for a smoother ride with NRT.
But that was not the only bad news delivered — only southside schools will see the impact with the driver shortage.
Lynch told the School Committee tonight, August 25, that McCarthy Elementary, Harmony Grove Elementary, Barbieri Elementary and Fuller Middle will be impacted.
He told the 9-member School Committee he is “doubling up runs” with those four schools.
“That is disgusting,” said District 7 School Committee member Tiffanie Maskell. “It is our southside schools. … I find it really disgusting that we are imposing on families on the southside schools but not one of the northside schools.”
School Committee Chair Adam Freudberg. ‘This is a major problem.”
Families on the southside, according to census data, as a whole are more diverse and have a lower socio-economic income. Two-third of the students in the district live on the southside.
Lynch said the “67 drivers is concerning” especially with school starting in about a week.
Lynch told the School Committee typically there is about 6,500 students who request a bus but this school year 2021-22, there were 5,621 students who wanted a seat on a bus.
Lynch said the district is accommodating 97.8% of the requests, and providing 5,496 seats for public school students, 253 seats for Christa McAuliffe Charter School students, and 46 seats to Saint Bridget School students, but that 125 students will not get a seat on the bus.
Lynch said those 125 student live 0.1 miles to a school to as far as 1.52 miles from a school are are in grades K-6.
School Committee Vice Chair Maskell said that was unacceptable and that the goal of the district should be to provide a bus for any family that requests it.
District 3 School Committee candidate Jennifer Moshe was unhappy with NRT & the bus situation before the bus conversation took place at tonight’s meeting. She spoke during public comment about the need for 77 bus drivers for 77 routes, per the contract, after hearing about a shortage of drivers at the last School Committee meeting.
And after tonight’s meeting Moshe said “I am concerned with the fact that we are 4 days from the start of the school year and the bussing issue is not ready for all the children coming back to school in-person to have a ride and start off the new school year smoothly.”
In a normal school year. Lynch said the district transports 6,500 students on the buses. There are more than 9,000 students in the district.
District 6 school Committee member Geoffrey Epstein wants Lynch and NRT to track the number of buses that arrive after the bell to school, as well as find more bus drivers.
Lynch said that the district and NRT will be tracking the buses and will know which ones make breakfast at the school, which ones make the bell, and which ones are late.
Lynch also reminded the School Committee members that NRT is providing more buses than Durham was providing in 2020-21. Lynch said Durham was 13 drivers short of its required contracted amount of drivers.
Both Durham in its final contract, and NRT in its new contract has said bus drivers are in short supply nation-wide.
Lynch said he wanted to give NRT until October 1, to get bus drivers hired, trained, and ready to take on a route.
In the mean time, the district has changed its 77 routes and compacted it into 67 bus routes.
School Committee Chair Freudberg said he did not want to wait until October 1, and suggested the district hire drivers to meet the 77 original routes and bill NRT for those drivers, as allowed in the contract.
Epstein agreed. “I am not prepared to wit weeks and weeks to get this fixed.”