Wake County school bus drivers are getting pay raises to try to reduce a driver shortage that has led to service changes in recent years which have made it more challenging for the more than 70,000 bus riders.
The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to use $2.2 million in state money to give across-the-board pay raises to bus drivers. It will now take seven years, instead of 13 years, to reach $15 an hour. School transportation officials said changes were needed because the district’s uncompetitive salaries have caused a turnover rate that’s led to Wake having 151 fewer full-time drivers than three years ago.
A new bus driver will now get $13.11 an hour, up from $12.55 an hour. After 32 years, a bus driver will reach $21.75 an hour compared to the old rate of $20.29.
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“It’s far from where we want to be, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer.
Wake has been in a losing battle competing for drivers against other employers, including public transit and truck companies. Wake had 881 full-time drivers in the 2014-15 school year compared to 730 this school year.
Wake launched a major recruiting effort over the summer to hire 70 new bus drivers.
The drop in drivers has caused the district over the last several years to reduce the number of buses on the road. It’s led to students walking further to new stops to catch buses that are more crowded.
“I’m hoping we can get those parked buses moving,” said school board member Lindsay Mahaffey.
The lack of drivers has also caused Wake to change start times for some schools, such as moving Apex High School 15 minutes earlier to 7:10 a.m. this school year. Apex High’s students are temporarily going to a site in Cary while their campus is rebuilt.
The difficulty recruiting school bus drivers across North Carolina led state lawmakers to set aside $16.8 million in this year’s budget to raise their pay.
Wake school officials have talked about moving the starting salary for drivers to $15 an hour. There may be a proposal in next year’s Wake school budget for more driver raises.
People interested in becoming school bus drivers can go to www.wcpss.net/careers for more information.