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Howard school system working to secure one-time additional pay for bus drivers amid call-outs, shortages

The Howard County Public School System issued a statement Monday warning of bus driver call-outs throughout the county, affecting services for students.

Several bus drivers called out sick Monday morning, but an exact number has not yet been determined, according to a school spokesperson.

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It was not immediately clear how many students were affected by the morning call-outs.

All scheduled buses except for Bus #16 serving Atholton High School and Hollifield Station Elementary School, Bus #43 serving Folly Quarter Middle School and Dayton Oaks Elementary School, and Bus #757 serving Centennial High School, Burleigh Manor Middle School and Hollifield Station Elementary School will be operating Monday afternoon for dismissal, according to the school system.

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“We are pleased that nearly all buses are back in operation this afternoon,” schools spokesperson Brian Bassett wrote in an email. “We are continuing to have a dialogue with contractors on an agreement and will share additional information later this week once agreements have been finalized.”

The disruption comes after the school system sent a message to bus contractors and drivers on Friday, highlighting a statement made by Superintendent Michael Martirano to potentially provide additional compensation to transportation providers as the school system grapples with a driver shortage, the need to double some routes and the continued pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Nov. 2 board meeting, Martirano noted that the school system has approximately 95 bus driver vacancies, a number that has remained steady since the start of the school year. Those vacancies mean the system has only about 80% of the more than 400 drivers necessary to cover all of the routes, according to the school system.

On Thursday, the school system held its second hiring fair to recruit bus drivers, as well as staff in other shortage areas including, custodians, food services, lunch, paraeducators, recess monitors and student assistants.

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The school system said it is working toward a proposal to provide bus contractors and drivers with additional pay, according to Friday’s message.

“We want you to know that taking care of our transportation providers during this difficult time is a top priority and our goal is to get as many routes activated as possible and support our excellent drivers,” Chief Administrative Officer Jahantab Siddiqui wrote in the message.

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