A bus driver shortage in Cumberland County has prompted the Board of Education to retroactively pay for Department of Transportation physicals for all bus drivers.

There are currently 65 full time drivers and 5 substitutes. According to Janet Graham, director of schools and the transportation department, the school system needs 72 full-time drivers and 10 substitutes to be fully staffed.

Robert Safdie, 2nd District BOE representative, suggested the board have meetings with bus drivers to determine what driver’s needs are. 

“We can take that information and work together toward solutions,” Safdie said.

BOE member Stace Karge, 9th District, asked, “What can we do to offer something now?”

She suggested retroactive reimbursement to pay for DOT physicals. 

“I didn’t know they had to pay that. I’m sorry,” she said.

Karge then moved to retroactively reimburse bus drivers’ DOT physical fees at $75 or up to the amount on receipt, whatever is greater that drivers have paid.

Jim Inman, 1st District BOE representative supported, and it was unanimously approved.

The BOE then discussed other possibilities to improve salary and benefits for bus drivers.

Tony Brock, 5th District BOE representative, suggested a monthly bonus and then one at end of year for a year completed safely.

“That should be an award that is given,” Brock said.

Karge agreed.

The board also discussed the possibility of having an attendant on the bus in the afternoon on some of the routes where there have been behavior problems.

“Maybe a teaching assistant who could get a boost in their pay. Someone who works with kids during day,” Brock said.

Brock suggested they see what interest there would be.

Cumberland County currently offers drivers a flat rate of pay per day, starting at $44.82 and topping out at $79.44. Full-time bus drivers also qualify for the employee health insurance program, with single coverage fully paid by the school system. Family members can be added, but the driver has to pay for that coverage.

The county has 72 regular buses, 15 special education buses and 27 extended utilization buses.

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative and BOE chairwoman, suggested a $500 incentive bonus to be paid to existing drivers after they have driven for a full year.

Karge said she would support that.

Graham suggested they prorate the bonus for drivers who come in later in year.

Boston suggested Central Office attempt to find four attendants in the afternoon for the tougher routes.

Brock said, “I think we should study this and see if principals can talk to the personnel. It may be premature to authorize funding for something that we don’t know how it is going to work.”

Boston then moved to have Central Services including Chief Financial Officer Kaycee Harris and the transportation department, put together a proposal to look at routes and what’s needed and put it on the September agenda.

Boston suggested the proposal include the cost of four attendants, the $500 bonus for a full year and to include safety and attendance bonus numbers.

Boston also said she would like to know the financial impact and legal impact of two teachers who are also driving buses, the financial impact of snow days and the reason why they’re not being paid to bus drivers.

“Is it financial or legal or just something that’s always been done this way?” she said.

The BOE will readdress the subject during the September meeting.

Suggestions have included sign-on bonuses for new full-time drivers who stay at least 90 days retroactive to July 1, and $150 safety and attendance bonuses. The safety bonuses would be issued quarterly.

Gary Nelson may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com

Crossville Chronicle senior staff writer

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