CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some school bus drivers here recently received a raise as their employer works to mitigate a significant driver shortage.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced in a news release that all of its bus drivers would earn $15 an hour, effective Oct. 1. That makes them the highest paid drivers in the state, according to the district.
The raise will affect 700 of the district’s 1,000 drivers. The 300 bus drivers who were already earning $15 an hour will receive an increase of 50 cents per hour.
"This is great news for our drivers and great news for their passengers — our students," said Dr. Clayton Wilcox, the superintendent for the school district. "We think this will increase our recruitment and retention rates significantly. It is also intended to help us achieve the goals in our 2024 strategic plan, including focusing on the instructional core and improving academic performance."
The increase was accomplished by redirecting funds already in the transportation budget, said Adam Johnson, executive director of transportation and the driving force behind the increase, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
"We had more than 50 positions that were funded but not filled," he said. "We were able to use that money, which was being held aside, to give our bus drivers a much-deserved hourly raise."
Earlier this year, the state raised the minimum rate to $15 for all state employees who are paid on an hourly basis, but excluded from the increase were district hourly employees, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians.
"We value our drivers, who perform such an important role in getting kids to school each day," Wilcox said. "This raise recognizes their value to our district."
Wilcox added that on-time arrivals at school will help the district improve on-time attendance and maximize instructional time.
"This is a shining example of how every department has a role to play in the strategic plan as we move forward," he said. "Departmental plans can drive implementation of the overall strategies in What Matters Most. Adam's leadership in [the transportation department] will help us improve academic results."
Like many other districts nationwide, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has struggled to recruit and retain bus drivers. As of Friday, the district had more than 60 bus driver vacancies and is continuing to recruit new drivers.
"For us, the issue isn't hiring as much as retaining the people we hire," Johnson said. "This year, we've hired more than 100 drivers and lost 90 drivers. We hope that this raise will improve retention rates, as well as morale."
To fill the gaps created by driver vacancies, the district has been using lead drivers and others. Johnson has been driving a bus as needed since the school year began on Aug. 27.
"Although I've enjoyed driving, I really need to be able to focus on leading the transportation department," Johnson said. "So I'm ready to hang up my keys and drive a desk for a while."