District officials say a decision to close Kermit Nickerson Elementary School Jan. 7 for lack of school bus drivers was a fluke that won't happen again.

Nickerson is one of five elementary schools in Regional School Unit 71, which serves Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville. Two buses transport the 84 students enrolled at the school in Swanville.

The school was closed because the district did not have enough substitute drivers to cover the daily bus routes, district officials said.

Parents were notified of the closure by robocall just before 6 a.m. with a brief message:

"Due to a shortage of bus drivers, school was cancelled for K-5 students at Nickerson School in RSU 71. Families of students in grades 6-12 were given the option to transport students to school and home again if they wish."

Speaking that afternoon, Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said the decision to close the district's "most far-flung school" came not from a shortage of full-time bus drivers but of substitutes, many of whom were coincidentally not able to work.

"It's very unlikely that so many people for various reasons are unavailable the same day," she said.

McLean said district staff met on Monday and came up with several back-up plans to avoid closing a school in the future, including combining bus routes. These will be discussed at the next meeting of the RSU 71 Board of Directors, she said. The next meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

The following morning, buses were running as normal, McLean said, adding that she doesn't expect the problem to happen again.

Several school district officials said they couldn't recall it ever happening in the past. Curriculum Coordinator Laura Miller said that in her 30 years with the district, she didn't remember a school being closed for lack of student transportation.

Jaime Van Keuren and his daughter Meara, a first-grader at Nickerson School, dropped by Swan Lake Grocery on the unexpected day off. Van Keuren said he learned of the school closure via a text message from the district.

"I luckily had the day off," he said, "So, we got to have a daddy-daughter day. But it was fairly unexpected."

RSU 71 is seeking substitute bus drivers and offering $14 per hour for six-hour days. Pay for full-time drivers ranges from $16.98 to $19.26 per hour. Vacancies, job descriptions and applications are available on the district website at rsu71.org, under employment.