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‘Hundreds’ apply after Chesterfield Schools boost bus driver pay

Chesterfield School bus.png
Posted at 3:52 PM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 18:12:03-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield County Public Schools have received “hundreds” of applications after the county announced a higher salary and incentives to attract new bus drivers.

CCPS Director of Transportation Dr. J. Calvin Frye provided an update on the challenges and strategies during the nationwide driver shortage to the school board on Tuesday.

Bus driver staffing remains at 75% to operate the 485 routes in the county. The school system said they would start the school year with about 100 bus drivers short.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers have shared numerous stories from concerned parents since the first day of classes in Chesterfield on August 23.

Mike Karabinos and his family no longer rely on the bus system compared to years past.

“Because the way the busing system has been and a lot of the challenges they face with the bus driver shortage, I can’t depend on that bus to pick up my kids,” Karabinos explained. “My wife has been driving my son to school at 7 a.m., then leaving again at 8 a.m. to drive my daughter to school. We’ve been caught up in backups that have spilled out in the main road.”

Karabinos helped organize a “Ready to Learn: Chesterfield” rally ahead of Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

“We want what’s best for our kids. Everybody involved I think wants best for their kids,” he explained. “We support intelligent schooling. We support safe schooling. We support taking the proper precautions against the delta variant especially.”

Last month, the county announced pay increases for their school bus drivers from $17.21 an hour to $20.21 an hour with incentive bonuses for signing up.

The presentation showed the school system has received “hundreds of applications since compensation package was announced” and the number is “growing daily.”

"I'm often asked what is that [salary] number? Where do we need pay to be to start attracting more and more drivers? We may have reached that because we are getting a lot more applicants," Frye told the board.

Frye presented performance data that compared on-time bus arrivals to the first week of school.

During the first week of school, 52% of buses arrived five minutes before the first bell. Last week, that number increased to 58%.

The school system earned a passing grade, reporting 79% of afternoon drop-offs were on time last week, up 12% during the first week of school.

Clover Hill District representative Dot Heffron then asked Superintendent Merv Daughter to implement a transportation task force to identify pain points and potentially audit the system's transportation system.

Heffron, speaking on behalf of the board, requested that the task force make recommendations to the board and create a long-term plan to prevent the issues in the future.

Dale District representative Debbie Bailey told Frye she continued to receive emails and calls from parents unaware of their student's location and unable to reach someone at the Transportation Department.

CCPS also planned to reassign Central Office clerical staff to answer phones after parents told CBS 6 that their calls to the Transportation Department goes unanswered or returned.

Frye said that the offices, which are designated by "areas," are staffed until the last child is delivered. He said new bus driver trainees will also help out in the offices during their downtime.

Bailey also spoke about drivers expressing concerns and frustrations with the added technology requirements on the buses. Drivers are required to sign students into a tablet as they board a bus, which Frye said has led to delays at the bus stop.

He predicted the bus woes will improve with more employees and as drivers get accustomed to the technology.

"I can honestly say I see the light," Frye stated. "as teachers, schools, drivers, and parents everyone working together gets more familiar, this improves."

A bus driver recruitment fair is scheduled at Manchester Middle from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. on September 30.