Aug 22, 2022 - News

Bus driver shortage plagues Atlanta school districts

Illustration of a school bus with a money band-aid on it.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Schools are facing a critical shortage of bus drivers. In districts like Cobb County where the majority of students take the bus, if left unchecked, the problem could inhibit schools' ability to hold class.

Driving the news: Facing a shortage of 200 bus drivers, the Cobb County Board of Education approved boosting pay for the position.

  • The increase of $5.25 will bring the starting pay to $25 per hour, making Cobb among the highest paying systems in metro Atlanta.

Why it matters: A shortage of bus drivers forces existing employees to run double routes, which could delay the time when students arrive at school and home.

  • The Cobb County School District has about 700 drivers and says it needs around 900 to be fully staffed.

What they're saying: Cobb County superintendent Chris Ragsdale also said the increase won't be the "silver bullet" needed to get the district back to being fully staffed.

  • He says this is "pretty much the last option" the district has before it would make operational changes.
  • "Because we have over 70% of our 108,000 students ride the bus to and from school every day, that if you can’t get the kids to school, we can’t have school,” Ragsdale said.

Marc Smith, the district's chief technology and operations officer, told board members that bus drivers who went through exit interviews say the workload was a factor.

Flashback: Last year, Cobb schools awarded $1,200 bonuses to bus drivers and another $1,200 retention bonus for current drivers and bus monitors. The district earlier this year also approved pay raises for bus drivers, as well as teachers and other staff members.

  • Ragdsale told board members the bonuses did not have the desired effect of retaining drivers.

Zoom out: Bus driver shortages have for the past year plagued districts across the country.

By the numbers: Spokespeople for districts across Atlanta confirm to Axios they too are experiencing bus driver shortages.

  • Atlantic Public Schools: Around 40 openings
  • Fulton County Schools: Nearly 200 shortages

And while there are currently no vacancies at Gwinnett County Public Schools, district spokesperson Bernard Watson told Axios that bus driver applications are still being accepted.

The DeKalb County School District has about 200 bus driver vacancies to fill, according to the personnel report presented earlier this month to the school board.

  • Along with advertising the positions on its website and social media, district spokesperson Donald Porter said DeKalb also has a $350 incentive for employees who help recruit drivers.

Atlanta Public Schools, which has 311 drivers, is trying to fill about 40 openings, spokesperson Seth Coleman told Axios.

  • The district is offering a $1,000 signing bonus and a starting pay of $21 an hour with an overtime rate of $31.50 an hour.

Fulton County Schools is also "aggressively recruiting bus drivers" to fill about 200 shortages, spokesperson Anne Boatwright told Axios.

An outlier among metro districts, Gwinnett County Public Schools has no bus driver vacancies, district spokesperson Bernard Watson told Axios.

  • But, Watson said the district knows everyone who is hired won’t complete training or might decide "driving a school bus isn’t for them," so applications for bus driver positions are still being accepted.
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