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Northwood cancels school bus for many students over too few drivers

Union Leader Correspondent

August 22. 2017 1:38PM
Parents packed the library in Northwood Monday evening, but could not speak during an emergency meeting about school buses. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

At Northwood School, K-8 students will have to rely on parents to drop them off when they start the school year. There will be no bus service for residents. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

NORTHWOOD — Northwood will not provide bus transportation to some students this fall due to a shortage of bus drivers.

Northwood does not have enough school bus drivers and cannot provide transportation, according to superintendent Robert Gadomski.

School officials have voted to start the school day at 10 a.m., with supervision available from 8 a.m., which will allow drivers from other towns to finish their routes before picking up K-8 students in Northwood.

Northwood students who attend Coe-Brown Academy will not be provided transportation, though the district is still searching for drivers.

SAU 44 had a three-year contract with Northwood Transportation for their bus routes, but that outfit went out of business. For the last four months, district officials have tried to remedy the issue, but have not found a solution, Gadomski said.

Gadomski said they have been working with Dail Transportation in Epsom, but so far only two people have stepped up for training. The district would need four certified drivers before Northwood could restart the bus routes.

Students in kindergarten to eighth grade are scheduled to start school next week. There are 415 K-8 students who attend Northwood School, according to their website.

Northwood’s high school students attend Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. Their freshman orientation was Friday, and classes started for everyone Monday.

“We’re fully aware of the fact this is an inconvenience to everyone,” Gadomski said Monday morning.

Gadomski said he has talked to every bus company within a 100-mile radius and they report a shortage in qualified bus drivers.

MG Lally, the location manager for First Student in Hampton, said she has not seen the trend Gadomski describes. First Student serves 14 communities on the Seacoast, and employs 103 drivers.

Lally said none of the communities she oversees will have a disruption in bus services as students return to school.

Gadomski said First Student officials opted to not work with Northwood months ago, citing a concern about the number of drivers they have in committed contracts.

During an emergency school board meeting Monday night in the library at Northwood School, parents turned out to express their frustrations, but no public comment session was held. Gadomski urged residents to email and call officials.

Board members voted to change the start of the school day to 10 a.m. They also voted to add a second crossing guard to monitor busy Route 4, which is the major artery between Dover and Concord, and sees heavy traffic.

Officials recognized that co-curricular activities will be affected, as well as food services and staff members. Gadomski plans to work with the teachers union to make sure employees are on the same page.

“This is not something we expected. It’s not something we wanted by any means,” school board member Barbie Hartford said.

After the meeting, parents expressed displeasure with the situation.

Amanda Roy, who has a boy entering kindergarten, said she just started a new job based upon the fact he will be going to school. Roy is concerned that if the school day starts at 10 a.m., it won’t end until 4:30 p.m.

“We eat dinner at 5 p.m. because at that time he’s ready for bed. He’s 5-years-old,” Roy said.

Another special meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Correction: This story has been updated to add that transportation will be provided to some students in Northwood.

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