U.S. DOE Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. DOT to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

The U.S. Department of Transportation in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education has announced that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain.

This announcement aims to alleviate some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing and is one of many resources the U.S. Department of Education continues to provide to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning.

“This Administration is listening to the needs of school communities and remains committed to making sure schools are open safely for in-person learning full time,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools. Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best. And American Rescue Plan funds can be used to hire these critical staff, including offering increased compensation or other incentives to recruit and retain staff.”

“This federal waiver will help states that are short on bus drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “By allowing states to focus on the testing requirements that are critical to safety, we will get additional, qualified drivers behind the wheel to get kids to school safely.”

Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver are permitted to operate intrastate school buses only; they are not authorized to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL.

The FMCSA waiver, which became effective Jan. 3, 2022, expires March 31, 2022. Read the full release from the U.S. Department of Education here.

Prepare to Become a School Bus Driver in Maine:

  1. Contact your local school district, Career and Technical Sites/Center, Adult Education Programs, or all to ask when the next School Bus Driver class begins. Some local classes are free.
  2. Study Section 10, School Buses, of the Maine Commercial Driver License Manual: https://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/licenses/cdlmanual.pdf
  3. Call Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles about commercial driver license (CDL) requirements, application, exam schedules, or extent of the Federal waiver. The direct contact for Maine BMV’s CDL Examination Section is 207-624-9000 ext, 52122. Between January 3, 2022 and March 31, 2022, the Federal waiver impacts a portion, not all, of the overall pre-trip inspection exam requirement.

Beginning February 7, 2022, Maine residents can search the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Training Provider Registry to find local CDL school bus trainers in Maine and your community.

Information Regarding Federal Requirements for Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT)

The following information from Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) may be useful information for Maine school transportation teams, Career and Technical Education Sites/Centers, and Adult Education Programs.

The Federal Requirement for Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) applicants to complete Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) before taking a road or skills exam takes effect on February 7, 2022.

The good news is drivers who have successfully completed a written exam and hold a CDL permit before February 7, 2022 are exempted from having to complete ELDT prior to a skills or road test.

Maine BMV wants to help!

BMV schedules written exams two weeks in advance, to ensure enough time to provide applicants written scheduling notification via the mail.

To increase the likelihood of scheduling a CDL or endorsement written exam before February 7, submit your completed application with payment to BMV no later than Jan 10, 2022

For questions, call Maine BMV’s CDL Examination Section at (207) 624-9000 ext. 52122

For more info on ELDT, go to: https://tpr.fmcsa.dot.gov/

School Bus Purchase Program Applications Open Nov. 1st to 25th

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) is accepting applications to receive subsidy for new school buses purchased through the Maine School Bus Purchase Program. The application period is November 1 through November 25, 2021.

The Maine DOE will be able to approve about $9 million in school bus allocations that combines new bus requests and the prior year bus term commitment. Round one applications will be accepted for school buses proposed to be purchased during fiscal year 2022-2023.

This program provides subsidy to school administrative units (SAUs) in order to offset partial costs of new school buses that are used to transport students to and from home and school and school events. This program is a resource to help SAUs purchase new school buses, retire end of life school buses, and respond to emergency and special bus needs.

With the exception of Section 3.1, eligible vehicles must meet Code of Maine Regulations Chapter 85 minimum qualifications.

The School Bus Purchase Program instructions and information are available on the Maine DOE’s NEO dashboard. To fill out an application, SAU staffs must log in to NEO.

If you have questions about the Maine School Bus Purchase Program, please contact Pat Hinckley, Transportation and Facilities Administrator at pat.hinckley@maine.gov.

If you need help logging into NEO, contact Maine DOE Helpdesk at medms.helpdesk@maine.gov or 207-624-6896.

Maine Schools Join Others Around the Nation to Recognize 2021 National School Bus Safety Week October 18-22

3 color drawings of school buses showing safety measures for drivers2021 National School Bus Safety Week Theme Be Safe – Know The Danger Zone is derived from the Poster Contest the year before. The 2020 winning poster artwork, depicted above, was drawn by Huyen Pham, a Northbrook Middle School student from Atlanta, Georgia.

Nationally, each year from September to November, public service announcements are aired to help protect 26 million students that ride on nearly 500,000 school buses over 4 billion miles in an average year.  Broadcast and digital media and social networking industries disseminate public service announcements that are produced to safeguard children, encourage the driving public to engage in safer driving behavior near school buses where students board and disembark from school buses, and recognize school bus operators and professionals.

Statewide, nearly 130 thousand students ride on about 3,000 school buses over 30 million miles of rural and urban roads in an average year. School Bus Safety Week offers the people of Maine an opportunity to recognize and thank transportation and public safety professionals, who have the invaluable task of keeping their precious cargo, our students, safe.

School buses are protected by law. Laws protect students who are getting off and on a school bus by making it illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while dropping off or picking up passengers, regardless of the direction of approach. Maine school bus safety laws support good driving behavior. These laws include:

  • Passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing is a criminal violation punishable by a $250 minimum fine for the first offense and a mandatory 30-day license suspension for the second offense occurring within three years of the first offense.
  • A vehicle may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the bus operator that it is okay to proceed.
  • 2021 model year and newer school buses are required to have a crossing arm on the front bumper.
  • A school bus operator who observes someone illegally passing a stopped school bus can report violations to a law enforcement officer.
  • School buses are required to stop at railroad crossings.
  • Unless otherwise posted, the school zone speed limit is 15 miles per hour during school opening or closing hours, as well as recess.

Additional school bus safety resources are available online:

For information about school transportation programs and policy contact Transportation and Facilities Administrator Pat Hinckley at pat.hinckley@maine.gov.

If you have an interest in joining this critically important profession, please reach out to your area schools to learn more, and please thank and support these heroes on the road!

The National School Bus Safety Week public education program is hosted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), and National School Transportation Association (NSTA).

Maranacook & Bangor Adult Ed. Programs Partner to Offer FREE School Bus Driver Training

Regional School Unit (RSU) 38 and Bangor Adult Education Programs are offering commercial driver license (CDL) classes this September, November, and January free of charge for eligible students. The project aims to help fill a critical workforce need across Maine for school bus drivers. While there are 10 free spots available per month, September is almost full and they are actively recruiting for November 2021 and January 2022.

The project was initiated by Bangor Adult Education director Greg Leavitt and grew into a partnership with RSU 38 Adult Education Program Director Steve Vose. They are able to offer the free classes using funds from a workforce innovation grant through the Maine Department of Education’s Adult Education Team.

“This is an ‘innovative’ workforce grant so let’s innovate,” said Vose who has spent a lot of time over the past couple months recruiting, getting participants ready to start the class this month, while also planning and recruiting for November and January, and adapting the program to be responsive to the needs of prospective participants. He is setting up reading tutors, if needed, to help students have success both during and after course completion. They are also exploring ways to pay students a working wage while they take the class – this would enable students to sign on without worrying about taking a month off work.

“If we continue to do the same old things, we are going to continue to get the same old results,” added Vose.

The CDL (Class B) class prepares students to meet the Maine BMV Class B school bus driving requirements and consists of 42 hours of classroom instruction to prepare students for the state written and skills exam and 30 hours of driving instruction to prepare students for the state road test.

The classes will take place at 75 North Road in Readfield, with driving time arranged individually with students. Tentative November class dates are, Nov. 4 – Dec. 18 on Thursdays from 6:00pm – 9:00pm and Saturdays 8:00am – 2:30pm. January dates are yet to be determined.

For more information or if students are interested, contact Steve Vose at steve_vose@maranacook.com or call 207-242-8795.

This story is part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or share good news, email Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.