School bus at Lyman Moore Middle School
Students head to buses at the end of the school day at Lyman Moore Middle School on Oct. 28. Portland Public Schools is coping with a shortage of bus drivers that has officials considering several contingency plans. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)
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The Portland school district is working to renew last year’s incentives to address a shortage of bus drivers, which led Portland Public Schools to cancel three routes on the week of Thanksgiving.

The district may cancel certain bus routes for elementary or middle school students, or adjust school start and end times to account for the lack of drivers, according to a Nov. 23 newsletter.

A combination of staffing shortages and COVID-related illnesses left PPS and schools across Maine in a similar position last year, and the district has said it will use similar procedures as last year if cancellations are necessary.

The district is working with the Benefit Association of School Employees (BASE) union, which represents bus drivers, to renew those retention and hiring incentives, according to Superintendent Xavier Botana. The proposal to renew those incentives was on the agenda for the Dec. 6 School Board meeting, which took place after the Phoenix went to print.

Incentives include a $3,000 hiring bonus and a $3,000 retention bonus, in addition to a $1,000 referral bonus for PPS employees who refer a driver.

Parents should expect to receive a robocall message if their child’s bus route is canceled, and were encouraged in the newsletter to explore alternative transportation options if possible.

“We are again urging families to consider alternate ways, such as carpooling and joining in Walking School Bus groups, to get your students to and from school if their bus is offline for a day,” Botana wrote.

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