Thursday, August 11, 2022

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School bus driver shortage a statewide problem

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The Alamance-Burlington school system isn’t alone in struggling to fill job openings for school bus drivers, as the shortage of drivers appears to be a statewide problem (see related story).

ABSS officials and other North Carolina public school officials have attributed the shortage of school bus drivers to low hourly pay for part-time jobs that typically don’t offer health insurance, retirement, or paid holidays, which full-time public school employees in North Carolina receive as a benefit of their employment.

Hoping to offset its shortage of drivers, ABSS is offering a $1,000 referral bonus to existing school bus drivers who encourage people they know to apply to work as a bus driver, based on a proposal that school board members approved this fall.

The school board also simultaneously approved a $1,000 recruitment bonus that will be offered to any newly-hired school bus drivers who stay with the school system for a minimum of 60 days. Both the referral and recruitment bonuses will be funded by $20,000 in existing county funding that has been set aside for bus driver incentives, school board members were told prior to approving the two types of bonuses in September.

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ABSS previously offered a modest monthly stipend to school bus drivers who had perfect attendance, but that did little to alleviate an ongoing shortage that has persisted for several years, the school system’s chief finance officer Jeremy Teetor recently told the board.

ABSS has also increased the starting pay for school bus drivers, from a previous minimum of $14.65 to $15/hour; and hourly pay rates for the most experienced school bus drivers, from $19.49 to $20/hour, under superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson’s county budget request for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Other public school systems in the Piedmont-Triad and Triad regions have reported similar difficulties with filling vacant positions.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system is offering $1,000 retention bonus for existing school bus drivers and raised the hourly pay for school bus drivers to between $15 and $21 per hour, depending upon experience, WFMY reported earlier this fall.

Wake County school board members recently approved a $1,250 one-time bonus for school bus drivers and increased the starting pay to $13/hour for all part-time employees, including school bus drivers, according to WRAL.

Nonetheless, school bus drivers in the Wake County public school system threatened to strike on Friday, October 29, to protest what they described as low pay and poor working conditions, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.

Instead, Wake County school bus drivers staged a “sick out” – i.e., calling out sick, en masse – for at least three consecutive school days to protest their pay and working conditions, WRAL reported earlier this month.

School bus drivers in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system had threatened to strike but ultimately decided against it last month, WXII reported.

Durham public schools recently announced it will pay school bus drivers what are reportedly some of the highest hourly rates in the Triangle region. New school bus drivers will be paid $17/hour, while those with 30 years or more experience will be paid $24/hour, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported earlier this fall.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools announced in September that it would offer a $4,000 recruitment bonus for new school bus drivers, based on the same report by The News & Observer.

More than 100 school bus drivers in the Cumberland County school system notified school officials that they would be absent from work on Monday, November 8, to protest a lack of pay raises, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

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