MERIDEN — The city’s public schools hosted a lunch and raffle Thursday to thank school bus drivers for their efforts during the pandemic.
“We are here today to celebrate our school bus drivers,” said Robert Kosienski Jr., president of the city’s Board of Education. “As you know statewide there is a driver shortage. We’re very appreciative to these men and women running double shifts. running two or three runs many times a day. They have had it difficult the past year and a half, many of them have been without jobs. We thought we’d celebrate with them by saying ‘thank you.’ In my family, the best way to say ‘thank you’ is with food.”
About 140 drivers ate a lunch of pizza and salad under a tent set up at the New Britain Transportation Co. depot on North Broad Street.
The drivers chatted amongst themselves and with school officials, won raffle prizes and posed for pictures.
“I think it’s great,” said Zoraida Rosa, a shuttle bus driver for three years. “I get to meet all the other people at the other bases.”
The drivers talked about having to make sure students keep masks on, disinfecting buses and keeping track of changing schedules.
“It was scary,” said Sherry Butterfield, a driver for five years.
Kosienski said there are several reasons for the bus driver shortage. After the state mandated all drivers had to be vaccinated, some with exemptions found the weekly testing requirement challenging. Others feared getting on a bus with 60 children without knowing their exposure. Kosienski added the shortage seems to be receding.
But veteran bus driver Shana Adams thinks there is another reason it’s difficult to keep drivers. The training lasts six to eight weeks and the job itself, which involves discipline, empathy and responsibility, doesn’t garner a lot of respect, she said.
“People don’t treat us very well,” Adams said as Butterfield nodded in agreement. “I”ve heard people say ‘you’re only a bus driver.’ They don’t realize all that we have to do.”
Butterfield and Adams were pleased with Thursday’s event and were excited for the photo and raffle.
“It’s great that they did this for us,” Adams said.