Wake County hopes a new annual $1,000 bonus will encourage school bus drivers not to quit during a widening driver shortage that’s affecting students..
Wake school administrators recommended Tuesday paying a $1,000 retention bonus to all current bus drivers that would be paid out in September. In addition, administrators want to speed up payment of a $1,200 sign-on bonus so that new drivers don’t have to wait a full year to get the money.
“They are related to our ongoing efforts to recruit and retain school bus drivers,” David Neter, chief business officer, told the school board at Tuesday’s specially called work session.
The board is expected to approve the plan next week.
Learning lab for students
Wake has offered multiple bonuses over the past few years both to recruit new drivers as well as to keep existing ones. Wake also raised the minimum salary for bus drivers to $17.20 an hour. But the vacancy rate has continued to rise to 35.75%. Wake is short 315 drivers.
Under federal law, school bus drivers are required to get a commercial driver’s license. That means schools are competing against other groups that can pay drivers more for having a CDL, such as truck driving companies.
Due to the lack of drivers, Wake has stretched out bus routes this school year. Until more bus drivers are hired, around 3,000 students are scheduled to arrive each day after classes have started.
Some bus riders are also being dropped off much earlier than normal. Others are staying much later until the bus can take them home.
Neter said administrators will bring a plan next week for a “Learning Lab” to provide supervised activities to those students as well as extra pay for teachers who are monitoring them.
Bonus for returning drivers
All current permanent bus drivers, a well as the permanent full-time substitute drivers, will be eligible for the $1,000 retention bonus. It would be paid in a special mid-month September payroll.
Wake says this means the 10-month drivers who don’t work in the summer will receive fuller pay in September.
Administrators met with a group of bus drivers to discuss the plan.
““The main thing that they were interested in was to get the money up front,” said Mark Strickland, chief of facilities and operations. “That’s such a positive ting for them.”
It will cost an estimated $625,000 that the transportation department will pull from its budget. The plan is to make it a recurring beginning of the year bonus incentive for drivers who are employed as of Sept. 1 of that year.
Speeding up bonus to new drivers
Currently, new bus drivers get a $1,200 sign-on bonus that’s paid in two installments. Drivers get $400 after the first three months and the remaining $800 after the first year of employment.
But Wake now wants to give all $1,200 to new drivers in their first paycheck. The district says this means new drivers will get a fuller first paycheck regardless of when they start in the school year.
Wake has already budgeted the money for the sign-on bonus so the board would only be voting on changing the timing of the payment.
School board member Sam Hershey asked administrators to look at allowing recently hired drivers to also get the full $1,200 now instead of waiting until the end of their first year on the job.