Monitors missing from Cumberland’s buses

Monitors missing from Cumberland’s buses

CUMBERLAND – Many local students are getting on the bus this year without the state-required oversight of a bus monitor.

“There’s no question that we’re having difficulty getting bus monitors,” said Supt. Bob Mitchell, adding that the monitors are required on all elementary school buses. “We have been working really hard to get monitors on every bus.”

While bus drivers are employees of bus company Durham School Services, monitors are employees of the school district, said Mitchell. They earn $11.25 per hour, he said, and work four hours each day, with a long gap between 90-minute morning and afternoon slots.

School officials are required to submit reports on monitors to the state once each month. Mitchell provided information from those reports showing 462 bus runs left uncovered by a monitor this school year, for a total financial savings to the district of $7,796 through Jan. 4. The district has 54 bus runs requiring a monitor per day, meaning there were 4,158 total runs through that same date, meaning about 11 percent of runs have gone without a monitor.

Tom Letourneau, a town resident and former school board member, complained to Mitchell and other officials after noticing a lack of a monitor on his grandson’s bus multiple times last week. Letourneau said he’s never been a big fan of the rule requiring monitors, calling it an expensive “knee-jerk” reaction to past tragedies, but he said if the law is in place, Cumberland needs to be following it.

Mitchell said there are a number of factors working against the schools as they try to secure enough monitors for all buses each day, including a low unemployment rate reducing the pool of those who might be interested, the gap between shifts, and the fact that winter hours aren’t all that attractive. Other districts are reporting similar issues, he said.

The superintendent said that given the lack of monitors, the district is more than willing to be flexible with people who only want to take a morning or afternoon shift instead of working the “rather unique” hours in the morning and afternoon.

“We need to, because we’ve got to get people on these buses,” he said.

Mitchell said the district is “constantly advertising” the positions on education-based job sites and on the district website, but administrators are now looking into potentially more effective means of advertising the jobs.

“We will continue to do everything possible to get these positions filled,” he wrote in a response to Letourneau.

Mitchell told The Breeze that Durham struggled for much of last year getting enough drivers for every bus, but those issues have seemingly been resolved.

According to state law, all buses carrying students up to grade 5 must have a separate monitor in addition to the driver, and only the commissioner of education can grant a waiver if a district is able to show an alternate plan to provide equivalent safety.

Monitors get on and off the buses as students enter and exit the vehicles, checking around the bus for any people before the bus moves on to the next stop.

Comments

It appears to me that 11% of the time residents were stuck behind a bus they weren’t delayed. I think the Moniters job is a little much. How many times do they have to check under the bus? I think one good sweep is suffice or how about some cameras? A camera system would be a few thousand dollars and would pay for itself in savings after 2 school weeks.

I agree with thatguy, cameras make a lot of sense, is the school committee listening. At least look into it.

Cameras are good. But monitors are required by state law. Can't rewrite state law.