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City eyes bonus for school bus drivers to ease shortage

New and current Charlottesville school bus drivers could earn a $2,400 bonus under a plan presented to the City Council on Wednesday.

The council will receive a more detailed presentation about the bonus, as well as other incentives, before voting on the $332,952 two-year pilot proposal at its July 19 meeting.

The hiring and longevity bonus along with a health care incentive are aimed at recruiting drivers before the start of the school year.

The Charlottesville school division contracts with the city to provide student transportation.

The bonus and health care incentive also would be extended to Charlottesville Area Transit drivers as part of a separate $499,632 plan. The School Board and city will pay for the proposals using federal stimulus funds.

“To provide an incentive plan to one set of drivers over another could shift the shortage from transit to school bus or vice versa,” according to council documents.

Currently, the city has nine school bus drivers; 30 drivers are needed but the division could get by with 14, City Manager Chip Boyles said Wednesday during a special council meeting.

Without more drivers hired and trained, the city and the school system could be looking at a situation similar to the spring when not all students could ride the bus to school. With limited seats because of COVID-19 mitigation measures and the driver shortage, bus transportation initially was limited to students in preschool, those with special needs or those who needed more academic support.

The waitlist shrunk within a month as more drivers came on board following changes at the Department of Motor Vehicles that made it easier for new drivers to get the required license.

To help those without a bus seat, school and community groups organized alternative ways to get students to school. For the coming school year, more students will be going back to classes five days a week.

The city won’t start advertising the bonus plan until the council votes to appropriate the money, but Boyles said they’ll have all the marketing materials ready to go following approval. Councilors said Wednesday that they want to see quicker movement, if possible. The school year begins Aug. 25, and city staffers already are working to develop bus routes.

“Trying to think what we can proactively do to kind of ready the market for this because this is a tight timeline given the start of the school year is like a month later,” Councilor Heather Hill said.

During public comment at the special meeting, School Board Chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said it was unlikely, even with the bonus, that newer drivers would be on the road before school starts.

She added that it was her understanding that the proposal is acceptable to the school system and that it is “a great place to start.”

With Albemarle County giving its bus drivers a raise and the continued shortage, city school division staff raised the alarm about the issue in May and were hoping to give drivers a raise.

The $2,400 bonus would not change the hourly rate for drivers. Boyles said the bonus would be stretched out over a nine-month period.

“We feel good with the starting salary range but feel this $2,400 incentive package will help us attract new drivers and retain our existing drivers,” he said.

In Charlottesville, the starting rate for drivers is $16.97 to $18.78. Albemarle County’s starting rate is $16.20 to $18.89, according to council documents. County officials also have flexibility in which specific salary step to start employees, according to the pay scale.

Since January, the city has lost two drivers to Albemarle County because of the better pay and benefits.

School bus drivers also could receive health insurance at a premium cost equivalent to that of a 40-hour employee as part of the plan. Currently, drivers get some health and retirement benefits, but not the same as full-time employees. County drivers receive full-time health and retirement benefits if they work at least six hours a day.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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