Bus driver sign works, SAD 44 gets extension

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BETHEL — SAD 44 has received a second 30-day extension from the Bethel Planning Board in order to continue to advertise for school bus drivers using a temporary sign attached to a bus.
The bus sign had been placed in the parking lot at Telstar earlier this year, under the Bethel Sign Ordinance’s provision that such signs are permissible for 120 days out of a calendar year. When that time expired, the sign was removed. In late September SAD 44 asked for an exception to the limit in order to continue to spread the word that drivers are needed. That exception/extension was granted for 30 days.
Planner Laurie Winsor was the only board member to oppose it. She said she was concerned about setting a precedent for such an exception, citing the requirement that a “hardship” be demonstrated, according to the ordinance. She wondered if and how the sign had contributed to finding more drivers, and what it would mean for the effort if the sign went away.
The Planning Board asked SAD 44 to answer those questions before the district considered asking for another extension.
At the Oct. 24 Planning Board meeting, SAD 44 Transportation Supervisor Ron Deegan said the sign has worked and he would like to keep it displayed longer.
“I’ve had more success with that sign than I have with anything else that I’ve done,” he said.
Deegan said he had found four potential drivers because of it.
He said that similar to other school systems, it has been a struggle to fill the jobs, and he has had to consolidate bus runs to compensate for a lack of drivers, resulting in longer rides for some students. SAD 44 has 14 bus routes, he said.
Deegan said he would like to continue using the sign for about three weeks into November, noting that leaving it out into the winter would generally not be “as beneficial.”  He said the bus displaying the sign will have to be moved in late November to make way for possible snow plowing.
Planning Board Chairman Mike Charron noted that Deegan could have another 120 days beginning Jan. 1 because it would be a new year.
Planner Neil Scanlon expressed concern about precedent in granting another extension before then, saying that a labor shortage is not unique to school bus drivers.
“If every business in Bethel that was short on labor put up a temporary sign like yours, I don’t think we’d be too pleased with that,” he said.
Charron said he did not think it was the same situation as, for example, a pizza business, because it involved the welfare of children.
“When rules can be adjusted slightly for the betterment of the community, it’s not necessarily a bad approach,” he said.
Winsor asked if SAD 44 could use the existing digital sign near the Telstar entrance to advertiser for drivers.
Planning Assistant Sarah Tucker said there was no reason they couldn’t.
Planner Dwayne Bennett then made a motion to approve another 30-day extension, and it was approved 4-2, with Winsor and Scanlon opposed.
aaloisio@bethelcitizen.com

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