Some Wake County school bus drivers got Valentine’s Day cards on Friday from grateful students and parents to cap off a week-long celebration of their efforts to safely get riders to and from school.
Schools showered bus drivers with gifts and other recognition as part of North Carolina School Bus Driver Appreciation Week and national “Love The Bus” Week. The thanks come during a time of driver frustration over low pay and sometimes rowdy students that add stress to their job of transporting 800,000 riders a day across the state and more than 75,000 in Wake County.
“It’s so important that you guys get our kids off to a great start every day,” Wake County school board member Susan Evans said to drivers at a luncheon Thursday at Holly Springs High School. “It’s not an easy job.”
Drivers have shifts that start at 5:30 a.m., or earlier. Some drivers don’t end the work day until 7 p.m. Drivers are not paid during the middle of the day unless they’re tapped for extra duty, such as driving groups going on field trips.
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Wake bus drivers start out at $12.55 an hour and reach $19.90 per hour after 32 years of service. The school board approved a 3 percent raise last year for bus drivers.
You’re not working for stellar pay, and we realize that. We’ve tried to improve upon that a little bit this past year, and we’ll keep working on that. It’s really something we care about.
Susan Evans, Wake County school board member
“You’re not working for stellar pay, and we realize that,” Evans told drivers. “We’ve tried to improve upon that a little bit this past year, and we’ll keep working on that. It’s really something we care about.”
When the pay raises were mistakenly not included in paychecks, more than 10 percent of Wake’s 825 drivers didn’t show up for work on the afternoon of Oct. 30. The protest led to delays delivering some students home from school.
Wake rectified the payroll error and also pledged to try to improve student behavior on buses. The district is trying to get all the buses equipped with onboard surveillance cameras by the end of the school year.
Some bus drivers say they put up with the low pay because they realize the importance of their jobs.
It’s just a great feeling to get on the bus and know that your bus driver is happy, too.
Holly Springs High freshman Dylan Martinez
“The pay isn’t that good, but the reward is better,” said Robersena Judd, one of the 47 Wake County bus drivers at Thursday’s ceremony at Holly Springs High. “You get the chance to be with the students to help them make the right choices.”
The commitment to serve the students was recognized this week.
“I wanted to say thank you to my bus driver for always having a smile on his face and just lightening the mood of the bus,” said Holly Springs High freshman Dylan Martinez. “It’s just a great feeling to get on the bus and know that your bus driver is happy, too.”
On Friday, Cary Elementary School was among the Wake schools where students gave bus drivers an early Valentine’s Day present with holiday cards. Throughout the week, Cary Elementary gave its drivers gifts such as tie-dye T-shirts, flowers, mints, gum, thank you notes and M&Ms.
Christie Caviness, who started driving a school bus in November, was happy to get the gifts from her Cary Elementary bus riders.
“I just get up in the morning to see them,” Caviness said of the students. “They’re funny.”