Chesterfield County officials announced a $3-an-hour boost to bus driver pay and $3,000 in bonuses to lure more candidates as the short-staffed system grapples with persistent delays.
Drivers will now make just over $20 hourly, which combined with the bonuses — spread over the year — should bump up annual earnings by $7,500, schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty said Monday morning during a news conference with school and county officials at the system’s technical center on Hull Street Road.
“Within a month from now, I will anticipate that things will look a lot better,” Daugherty said.
Chesterfield marked its first week of school last week with buses running late and parents stuck in school drop-off and pickup lines. Ahead of the school year, the district asked parents to help stanch the impact of the bus driver shortage by driving their children to school, prompting long lines that compounded difficulties.
School Board Chairman Ryan Harter said Monday that he’s heard from parents daily “who are frustrated and feeling the stress from our bus schedules [and] long lines of traffic schools in the morning and afternoon, and I understand.”
Harter said the school system’s bus schedules need to be reliable. Schools are also looking into ways to make drop-off and pickup traffic patterns better.
On Monday, Daugherty reiterated that the district needs roughly 100 bus drivers. But on Monday, 33 bus drivers started training; they are slated to be on the road in three weeks. Daugherty also said the district received about 80 applications last week.
The bus driver shortage is a regional and national problem.
School districts in Richmond and Henrico County offered up high-paying bonuses starting last week. On Friday, Chesterfield trailed in the region with its new offer of a $500 bonus twice a year in October and April. Drivers may also earn an additional $100 each semester for safe driving and a monthly $50 bonus for perfect attendance.
Facing a shortage of 115 bus drivers, Henrico is offering a $1,000 bonus for inexperienced drivers, a $2,000 bonus for new drivers who have a commercial driver’s license, and a $3,000 bonus for those who have the endorsements that allow drivers to drive both school buses and passenger vehicles.
Richmond is offering a $1,200 bonus for new drivers and a $2,200 bonus for existing drivers and new drivers who already have a commercial driver’s license. The district is short 20 drivers of its 200-bus fleet.
Hanover County Public Schools, which is short 34 bus drivers, does not provide driver bonuses. Instead, the district offers pay incentives for those who will drive additional routes.
Chesterfield previously paid $17.21 an hour. Richmond pays $16.85 an hour, Hanover pays $15.75, and Henrico pays $14.91.
The system plans to continue paying a $100-per-semester bonus for safe driving and a monthly $50 bonus for perfect attendance. Pay increases for both existing and future bus drivers will be reflected in drivers’ Sept. 30 paychecks, officials said.
The $3,000 bonus will be broken up and factored into paychecks in December, January, March, April and May.
The increased pay and bonuses, costing between $3.3 million and $3.6 million, are being paid for through state funding, Daugherty said. The costs will be added to future budgets.
School system and county officials worked over the past week on the bus driver payment plan.
“[Bus drivers have] done an amazing job covering the gap of the driver short call, often finishing up your route to go out a second time, sometimes a third time,” County Administrator Joe Casey said Monday. “You’ve gone above the call of duty, and this higher wage rate and higher bonus is our thank you to you.”
Besides getting more bus drivers on the roads, the school system is also tackling the traffic with parents driving their children to school.
The district’s transportation department is working with Chesterfield police to alleviate traffic patterns such as changing turn lanes or traffic flows, said schools spokesperson Shawn Smith.