Saugus lands 6th school bus

School buses line up outside Belemonte Upper Elementary School for dismissal in Saugus on Thursday. (Libby O'Neill)

SAUGUS — After months of waiting, the school district was able to secure a sixth school bus, which officials have said will go a long way toward meeting demand for transportation to school.

The new bus will begin trips in late October or early November, when a driver is trained by the bus company, according to Acting Superintendent Michael Hashem. He cautioned that all bus routes may change at that time to “create efficiency in order to maximize capacity.”

By adding a sixth bus, the district will be able to get a number of students off the waitlist for seats, according to School Committee member Dennis Gould. The committee had officially requested a sixth school bus last October when it also approved guidance for district officials on how to fill seats that open up.

The district is paying for the cost of the new bus through turnovers, which provides for recurring funding, Hashem said.

Superintendent Erin McMahon, who has been on paid administrative leave since January, had included money to purchase a sixth bus in her proposed fiscal year 2024 budget, but that request was eliminated from the budget when the committee took $1.2 million out of her proposal.

Gould said the extra bus was in the budget last year but “somehow got dropped” before the committee resurrected it during the summer, when it became clear it was a need for the district.

“It’s coming, we got the money in,” he said.

School Committee Chair Vincent Serino said school officials were still working out the new bus routes. Serino could not be reached Tuesday. A request sent to district officials seeking the number of students on the waitlist for school bus seats was not returned.

Last fall, the number of students awaiting bus seats ballooned to more than 150, with school officials citing the transition in school buildings as a major factor. When Saugus had four elementary schools and separate middle and high schools, the demand for buses was not nearly as high, but under the new consolidated model, demand skyrocketed, leaving the district scrambling.

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