WOBURN – State officials have said a regional workforce crisis that crippled the out-of-district transport provider in Woburn as of September back to school has been resolved.
Monday, the governor of Mass. Charles Baker ended the Mass. National Guard’s emergency school transport mission. months and thanked nearly 250 members of the Guard filling the critical workforce void in Woburn and at least a dozen other communities scattered across the state.
According to the governor, who first announced in September that he would deploy guards to deal with bus and van driver shortages in Lynn, Lawrence, Chelsea and Lowell, the soldiers handled nearly 14,626 pickups and landings of students during their mission. In total, nearly 236 guards mobilized to take charge of more than 3,000 unmanned transport routes, and 190 soldiers obtained special 7D vehicle operator certifications to familiarize themselves with the vans and associated safety protocols.
“The Commonwealth is grateful to the men and women of the Massachusetts National Guard for answering the call and supporting the safe transportation of students to communities in Massachusetts,” Baker said yesterday when announcing the end of the emergency mission.
“By working with local districts that requested help, the Guard was able to provide essential school transportation support at a time when schools, students and families needed it most,” added the state executive.
Woburn Superintendent Dr Matthew Crowley first revealed in mid-September that the town had contacted the National Guard for assistance in getting local students to out-of-district internships.
At the time, North Reading Transportation (NRT), which serves the community special education transportation provider (SPED), was struggling to hire hundreds of drivers to operate its fleet of vans and buses. Based on an assessment by local officials, NRT did not have the manpower to staff at least 38 contractual routes to school for local SPED students.
School board veteran Dr John Wells first openly called for an investigation into transportation issues after a parent in the White Elementary School area approached the board in early September to ask complaining about sporadic and unreliable services provided to her young child.
This initial report into the bus transportation issues, which involved a child whose school is located in Beverly, sparked an investigation by the Student Services and School Committee Success Subcommittee, which, thanks to the Help from the Woburn Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC), uncovered evidence of broader labor shortages.
“There is a 15% shortage at NRT with 38 unfilled routes. Some [existing drivers] do double runs and find other solutions, ”said Colleen Cormier, school committee member and chair of the student services subcommittee, at a meeting in mid-September.
In total, the Guard provided school transportation support in 13 districts, including Brockton, Chelsea, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Quincy, Revere, Wachusett (regional), Woburn and Worcester.
Members of the National Guard traveled a total of 329,224 miles during their mission, state officials said.