NORFOLK, Va. — As bus driver shortages loom over Hampton Roads school divisions, leaders are getting creative with recruitment and retention.
"Our bus drivers have a rolling classroom for three hours a day without assistance,” said Williamsburg James City County Senior Director of Operations Marcellus Snipes.
The Williamsburg James City County School board voted to give drivers a $1.25 hourly pay increase, starting Dec. 1.
“It’s a huge milestone for our drivers,” Snipes said.
Pay is jumping from $15.24 to $16.49 an hour. Senior Director of Operations Marcellus Snipes said it’s competitive.
“We wanted to ensure our drivers are paid at the top of the scale,” Snipes said.
So, how competitive?
In Portsmouth, drivers start at $13.83 an hour. In Norfolk, it’s $15.40. Chesapeake school division leaders say their drivers start at $15.26 an hour. In Hampton, it’s $15.73 and Virginia Beach contracted drivers start at about $16.39 an hour.
Depending on the division, wages can fluctuate depending on experience.
Most Hampton Roads school divisions are also offering sign-on and referral bonuses.
A spokeswoman for Norfolk Public Schools said they offer a mix of bonuses. New drivers get $250 for having or obtaining a CDL licensure, another $250 for a first-time hire bonus and more.
Hampton school division officials said their sign-on bonus is $750.
A new program in Virginia Beach gives $375 to a referee once a driver passes all training, then another $375 once the driver finishes 50 days of work.
“If you want to refer more people you can do that,” said VBCPS Coordinator of Recruitment and Retention Anne Glenn-Zeljeznkak. “If they get five more referrals, they still get $375 for each part of that, plus they get an additional $500.”
Zeljeznkak said they are using CARES Act funding to help.
“It’s for the employees,” Zeljeznkak said. “And that is any employee to really get in there and encourage people to be a bus driver because we really need bus drivers.”
Snipes said his team won’t stop tossing around ideas until the shortages are taken care of.
“You want to look at anything you can do to make sure kids get to school safely and soundly and efficiently,” Snipes said.
Officials with Chesapeake Public Schools are also seeking drivers from their own employee pool. Any employee can sign up to see if they qualify to help fill driver vacancies and take on some bus routes.