10/10/13 — District to hire drivers for school bus routes

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District to hire drivers for school bus routes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 10, 2013 1:46 PM

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Victoria Davis sweeps her bus in the parking lot at the Wayne County Public Schools' central office today after the end of her morning drive. Davis became a school bus driver after graduating from high school three years ago, following in the footsteps of her mother and aunt. In the morning she drops children off at School Street Elementary School, and in the afternoon she drives a route for Edgewood Community Developmental School.

The Wayne County Board of Education on Monday approved a request from the schools' transportation department to hire 20 substitute bus drivers. The move is geared to offset a driver shortage.

The measure would cost the district about $70,000 a year.

The original proposal, which included hiring 30 "transportation safety assistants," had been part of a reorganization plan introduced in June by Raymond Smith Jr., the schools' transportation director. That plan also included spending $87,500 for 250 communication radios, $9,000 for additional equipment and $180 a year for the communication equipment tower.

The bus driver shortage has been a problem in all areas of the county, Smith said.

"It's very difficult to maintain school bus drivers simply because we're asking people to split their day. We're asking them to come in the morning for maybe an hour and a half or so and then split their day and come back in the afternoon," he said. "It's very difficult to maintain individuals who have that kind of schedule."

Hiring transportation safety assistants, or TSAs, would provide much-needed support in providing monitors as well as back-up support for the driving pool, he explained.

"Now, don't be alarmed -- not too many people all at one time," he told the board. "We're only talking about two individuals per district. We have five school (districts) and we have the district supervisors.

"There would be two people in the morning from 6 to 10 a.m. and of course, two people in the afternoon from 2-6 p.m. and those individuals would be available for that district to serve as substitute school bus drivers."

The district traditionally has had other school personnel step in where needed, Smith said, but they are limited because they already have jobs.

"So what we did, I got together with Ms. (Nan) Barwick (assistant superintendent for fiscal services) and we crunched some numbers. Basically, what we came up with was approximately $115,000, $120,000 last year that we spent on substitute drivers. My proposal would cost approximately $185,000, $190,000 thereabouts because we're increasing the actual rate from $9.66 we currently pay subs to $12 an hour," he said. "Of course, that's another reason we have difficulty maintaining school bus drivers, sub bus drivers, is because we only could pay them $9.66 an hour. So the difference in cost is approximately $70,000 a year.

"My request basically is for the approval of the substitutes and the increase of $70,000 per year approximately for the cost of those individuals."

Since the hires would only be working four hours a day, individuals with another part-time job would no longer have to split up their day, Smith said, and the district would incur no additional costs for benefits.

Another advantage, he added, is that the pool of dependable drivers would be increased.

"Just because there are two assigned per district, if the other district is not in need of their subs and another district needs those subs, those subs can be transferred to that district for the purpose of subbing (there)," he said.

In a memorandum to the board detailing the request, Smith wrote, "With the TSA's and additional support of other school personnel (e.g. teachers, coaches, instructional assistants, etc.) that possess Commercial Drivers Licenses, and have a desire to earn extra money by agreeing to drive a school bus, I am confident that we can all but eliminate one of the most profound causes of Transportation Department concerns, which is the lack of school bus drivers."

Guilford County currently uses a similar program, he told the school board.

"It's a very popular program because it allows you basically to take care of your needs internally rather than having to depend on outside sources. The majority of our school bus drivers do work outside of the school system," he said, explaining that offers of higher pay elsewhere is one way the district loses drivers.

Board member Arnold Flowers made the motion to approve Smith's request, and board member Dr. Dwight Cannon seconded it.