Oct 20, 2021 - News

Columbus offering bigger bonuses for school bus drivers

The front of a school bus

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Bonuses up to $2,000 are coming for Columbus City Schools bus drivers and other non-teaching employees as part of a new two-year agreement with their union that school board members approved Tuesday.

Why it matters: The move is the latest example of school districts across the U.S. trying to entice and retain workers amid a labor shortage. Locally, Licking Heights and South-Western schools are also offering similar bonus programs.

Details: The bonuses will be paid out in $500 installments over two years, using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Threat level: Columbus has just over 600 drivers, but 555 are "active daily drivers," district spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant tells Axios.

  • There were 765 drivers in 2019.
  • Earlier this year, the district considered using public COTA buses to make ends meet but instead reduced its offered routes from 700 to 560.

Yes, but: That can result in longer ride times for students already affected by the driver shortage.

What they're saying: "Parents are upset because we're running late and buses are running behind, but we're giving everything 150% of what we have," Lois Carson, president of the district's non-teaching employees union, tells Axios.

  • "We're doing our darndest to keep schools up and running."

Driving the news: While the "great resignation" is impacting industries everywhere, the issue is compounded for bus drivers.

  • There were 15% fewer bus drivers nationwide in May 2020 than in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • They work irregular hours for a median pay of $16.67 per hour.
  • A commercial driver's license is required, so hiring is a tedious process, though Gov. Mike DeWine announced last month that Ohio was prioritizing background checks for drivers.
  • Many drivers are older, so they're at greater risk of COVID-19 complications.

Flashback: Columbus increased hourly pay for bus driver trainees from $11 to $18.50 in June. Starting pay is $19.88 an hour.

  • Bus drivers and all non-teaching employees got 3% raises this year and will get 2.25% raises next year.

💭 Alissa's thought bubble: This is a tough problem and I'm not sure there's an easy solution. Even before the pandemic, districts everywhere were competing for the same shrinking talent pool.

  • Given that dilemma, I'm surprised the district and the union couldn't come to an agreement sooner. Their contract expired Aug. 31.

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