MARLBOROUGH — Much like Framingham, school officials in Marlborough are facing significant challenges with school bus vendor North Reading Transportation in getting enough drivers to cover all contracted routes.
The issue has led to some students having to seek alternative means of getting to school, and that has impacted student attendance, according to school officials.
Tom LaFleur, director of finance and operations for Marlborough Public Schools, said that given the shortcomings of NRT, school officials are potentially looking at dropping their current contract and finding a new bus provider, starting next fiscal year.
“It’s no secret in the community that we are struggling with our transportation provider,” LaFleur said during Tuesday’s School Committee meeting. “I have called the performance bond on this contract. Currently, NRT is only staffing 29 of our contracted 33 full, big bus routes. The same group of students are missing time on learning, they are getting home an hour and a half after school ends, so we are taking this step.”
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The performance bond is an instrument taken out by NRT with an insurance company at the start of the contract with Marlborough Public Schools. The policy states that if NRT does not live up to parameters of the agreed-upon contract, the city will receive payment from the insurance company as collateral.
Performance bonds used to pressure vendors to abide by contracts
“Performance bonds are common when major contracts are made between a city and a vendor,” LaFleur told the Daily News. “What calling for it will do is not necessarily lead to it being paid out, but it will typically lead to an immense amount of pressure put on the vendor by the insurance company to live up to the contract.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, LaFleur said the district sought approval from the School Committee to seek out another vendor to cover the four uncovered bus routes. The committee approved the request unanimously.
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LaFleur had also proposed investigating a way to find another vendor, starting in the next school year, although that proposal was tabled before Tuesday’s meeting. NRT has a contract with Marlborough Public Schools through the end of the 2024-25 school year, although LaFleur said the district could potentially find another vendor for that year if things don’t improve.
NRT told the Daily News in a statement that the company continues to remain focused on finding enough drivers to service the community.
“NRT remains focused on transporting our students safely and promptly to and from school, against the backdrop of an unprecedented labor shortage that impacts teachers and drivers alike,” the company said. “Fighting this challenge in the media is not productive, and we look forward to working with the school districts to solve this issue.”
Marlborough not alone in busing shortcomings
Marlborough is not the only community impacted by an understaffing of drivers. It’s also a major issue in Framingham, with Framingham Public Schools about 20 drivers short of what it was contracted to receive.
In a joint press release between Marlborough Public Schools, Framingham Public Schools and Advanced Math and Science Academy Executive Director Lisa Mobley, Mobley said NRT has also underserved the Marlborough charter school, with only 37% of buses arriving at the school on time.
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“This leaves over 100 students waiting for an hour or more for transportation, which is completely unacceptable,” she said.
Marlborough was subject to a bus driver strike in May, with Marlborough drivers and NRT involved in a contract dispute. That led to almost no drivers being available for students for two days before the strike was resolved.
LaFleur said that earlier this year, the district approved spending of up to $34 per hour to help recruit more bus drivers. He said the issue with NRT is not personal, and that school officials are hoping for a resolution as quickly as possible to help Marlborough students, parents and staff.
“All we want is our kids to be delivered to school on time and to be brought to and from school safely,” LaFleur said. “If we can do that, we are good to go. There is no personal animosity between NRT and the district — we just want to be to help our students.”
Clinton Mora is a reporter for Trending Insurance News. He has previously worked for the Forbes. As a contributor to Trending Insurance News, Clinton covers emerging a wide range of property and casualty insurance related stories.