Amid shortage, Macon schools passes bus driver retention bonus
Bus drivers in Macon County will receive a retention bonus totaling $500 this year as part of the school system’s effort to recruit and retain those vital employees. Like many school systems in the region, Macon County Schools is facing a shortage of drivers.
“We are struggling to find employees, and bus drivers specifically,” said Human Resources Director Todd Gibbs at the Aug. 22 school board meeting. “Currently, we are short two full routes and two half routes. What I would like the board to consider is some sort of retention bonus for bus drivers that stay with us throughout the year.”
Gibbs suggested a retention bonus of $500, half of which would be paid out in December, the other half in May. That amount will be prorated for part-time drivers. Drivers must be employed with the school system as a bus driver at the time of payment in order to receive the bonus.
“Ideally it would be for all regular route bus drivers, just as a little thank you, and please stay with us, and we appreciate what you do,” said Gibbs. “If it entices a person or two to become a bus driver, all the better.”
Funding for the bonus will come from the school system’s current expense budget in the general fund. With around 46 regular route bus drivers, it will cost an estimated $30,700.
Board member Melissa Evans asked the board to consider whether this would need to be an annual expense in the years to come, or just a one-time bonus.
“I can say that as long as I’ve been in the school system, we’ve never had a surplus of bus drivers,” said Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin.
This school year, the minimum hourly wage for all public school employees increased to $15 per hour. The 2021 state budget required all hourly employees to make at least $13 per hour last school year and $15 per hour in the next. Bus drivers fall into that category, and beginning this year, all starting bus drivers will make $15 per hour.
“Hopefully with the $15 an hour increase, and with this incentive, we will see some more interest in driving a bus,” said Gibbs. “We’re very hopeful.”
This summer, the board discussed sign-on bonuses in an effort to attract new drivers. However, Baldwin was not in favor of that type of incentive because it wouldn’t have rewarded the drivers who have been with the school system for several years.
Before the state-mandated increase, an inexperienced bus driver would make around $12.84 per hour, while an experienced bus driver may already be making $15 per hour. With the mandated increase, inexperienced bus drivers will now automatically make $15 per hour, while an experienced bus driver already making that amount will only get a 67-cent hourly increase.
“I’m not in favor of a sign-on bonus for that reason,” Baldwin said during the school board’s July meeting. “It’s been a morale issue, not only with bus drivers but with custodians and clerical workers. They saw that beginning rate increase pretty dramatically but then there’s no reward for folks that have been around for a while.”
At that July meeting, Board Chairman Jim Breedlove asked that Baldwin bring a proposal for bus driver pay before the board at its next meeting. The retention bonus for all regular route bus drivers presented at the August meeting of the Macon County Schools Board of Education passed unanimously.
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$500...split across 6 months. Have these folks seen the rate of inflation currently going on in this country??? That might have been a decent incentive this time a year ago.