Central Virginia school districts hope big bonuses lure in bus drivers

Central Virginia school districts hope big bonuses lure in bus drivers
Posted at 6:43 PM, Aug 31, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- The CBS 6 Problems Solvers have spoken to numerous frustrated parents since Chesterfield County Public Schools welcomed back students on August 23.

Parents like Amanda Glenn were disappointed with long lines for morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. In some cases, no school buses were seen driving through some neighborhoods following the county’s bus driver shortage.

“It’s frustrating and hopeless. I haven’t been able to get any answers from the school,” Glenn said.

School districts nationwide, the trucking industry and private transit companies like garbage pickup and the GRTC bus line all report a great need for drivers.

CBS 6 spoke one-on-one with Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Merv Daughtery following his announcement of pay raises and bonuses for bus drivers on Monday.

“Everybody is trying to figure out the same problem and it’s called how do you grow people?” Daughtery explained. “We know for the first few weeks of school we were the only person everybody was watching. But everybody is going to get their due about it. It’s going to happen. Everyone has some issues with transportation. We think it’s going to get better."

Both Henrico and Richmond schools, which are scheduled to reopen on September 8, compete for the same experienced drivers as the rest of Central Virginia.

Henrico Schools will start the school year on September 8 with a shortage of more than 100 bus drivers, according to Pupil Transportation Director Jim Ellis. Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said they need to hire 19 additional bus drivers.

Among Metro Richmond school districts, Chesterfield County currently pays their drivers the most per hour at $20.21, up from $17.21. The district also increased their signing bonus from $1,000 to $3,000 for new hires.

Henrico County Public School’s drivers earn $14.91 per hour while offering up to a $3,000 signing bonus for those with their commercial driver's license and “P” and “S” endorsements.

Richmond Schools pay their drivers $16.85 but announced the area’s largest signing bonus in the area on Tuesday.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said all existing bus drivers will be given $4,000 to ensure they stay with the school system. $4,000 will also be offered for drivers applying with a commercial driver's license (CDL), $2,000 for drivers applying without a CDL.

“I also want to note we offer eight-hour contracts,” Kamras stated. “Many other areas only offer six. We are offering eight and that includes full benefits.”

Each of the school districts offers varying perfect attendance and safety bonuses drivers can earn each month or quarter.

“How are you going to make sure they don’t poach your drivers that you’ve worked to train?” CBS 6’s Brendan King asked Daugherty.

“We think our plan is a little different,” he responded. “It offers an opportunity for our employees to stay. Our pay salary is a lot higher per hour. I also think it comes down to work environment and climate.”

Daugherty said the school district has been actively recruiting every month while holding job fairs and training sessions throughout the county.

Sen. Tim Kaine believed the signing bonuses will encourage people to apply, but admitted applicants are taking their health into consideration.

“I think it will come back but I think it will take signing bonuses because basically, people are worried about their health and sort of making different calculations,” Kaine explained. “What do I need to earn and what should the working conditions be that makes me feel comfortable putting my health at risk particularly during the delta variant?”

Kaine encouraged everyone to get vaccinated in order to defeat the coronavirus, especially as cases of the delta variant continue to rise.

Daugherty said CCPS families should be commended for stepping up doing this unprecedented time.

“Our parents have done a great job helping us out. Every day it seems to be getting a little bit better,” he said.

CBS 6 also requested an interview with a representative with Henrico Schools. Their spokesman said they will release new information about their bus driver shortages to the public on Wednesday.