HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Henrico County Public Schools became the third system in metro-Richmond this week to announce pay increases and signing bonuses to lure in bus drivers.
Henrico Schools will increase hourly pay for their bus drivers from $14.91 to $17.15, which is an increase of 15 percent, according to a press release on Wednesday.
“We are trying to put our best foot forward,” Henrico Schools spokesperson Andy Jenks said. “If the question is, 'Why now?' It’s because conditions continue to change and school systems everywhere are doing the best they can do adapt to them.”
Henrico Schools offered $3,000 bonuses for new drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), plus “S” and “P” endorsements. New hires with less experience will receive a bonus from $1,000 to $2,000.
“I think it’s fair to say we are keeping an eye on the other localities in the region as much as the other localities in the region are keeping an eye on us. It is a competitive environment,” Jenks said.
Both Henrico and Chesterfield schools report a shortage of at least 100 bus drivers, while Richmond Schools needs to hire an additional 19 drivers.
Chesterfield County Schools announced on Monday plans to increases wages for bus drivers to $20.21 an hour from $17.21 an hour. Signing bonuses for new hires also increase from $1,000 to $3,000.
Richmond Schools currently pay drivers $16.85 an hour. On Tuesday, Superintendent Jason Kamras announced $4,000 signing bonuses for new hires with their commercial driver's license and existing employees.
Dr. Jeff Smith, a supply chain management professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, acknowledged the driver shortage is not new. However, the current pandemic has compounded the issue.
“As the older workforce starts to cycle out, they’re retiring and it’s a less attractive job to younger people,” Smith said. “The attractiveness isn’t just there right now, and I don’t see it being alleviated anytime soon because you can’t just throw money at the problem.”
Dr. Smith said the chance for exposure to COVID-19 weighs heavy on whether new drivers even apply to drive a school bus as other industries like Amazon, trucking, and garbage pickup also fight for the same workforce.
“Last Spring, when a lot of the schools went virtual all those people who would’ve been driving buses probably found alternate jobs,” he said.
During an August 26 school board meeting, Henrico Schools Pupil Transportation Director Jim Ellis spoke about the need to raise wages as he expects some employees to drive double or triple runs to pick up all the students.
“With the pay, we need to work on that to see if we can be more competitive so once those bonuses expire we don’t lose them again,” Ellis told the board.