By Rachel Christian
Officials are hoping new hourly wage increases will help ease Osceola County’s ongoing school bus driver shortage.
Since August, insufficient staffing on busy routes has led to significant delays for students,
with some reportedly arriving to class over an hour late to class. About 45 routes remained unfilled two months into the school year.
The shortage grew so severe that administrators and secretaries at the district transportation office got behind the wheel to pick up the slack.
“One thing we hear a lot is that drivers don’t get paid enough here,” Transportation Coordinator Dave King told the Osceola News Gazette in November. “I agree with them.”
The Osceola County School Board attempted to correct the issue last month when it approved new pay increases for bus drivers and other support staff.
The 2018 contract between Teamsters Union 385 and the Osceola School Corporation details a wage increase of about $1.57 an hour for entry-level bus drivers. Pay raises for existing employees were also outlined in the contract.
Additional benefits include a quarterly bonus for good attendance and two extra paid training days a year.
Other union support staff, including cafeteria workers, also saw pay raises thanks to the new contract.
At the end of each year, school district and union representatives sit down at the bargaining table to discuss employee benefits for the upcoming year. Talking points can range from health insurance to better working conditions.
This year, Transportation Director Shawn Tucker said both sides of the table saw the bus driver shortage as a major priority.
“Osceola County is a very competitive market for drivers, and we at least needed to stay competitive with places like Disney, Lynx and Mears,” Tucker said. “We want to attract more people, and we’re hoping higher pay will help.”
New Osceola County school bus drivers will now start out at $12.75 an hour, up from $11.18. Tucker said it’s one of the largest single increases drivers have seen in a while.
A new bus driver training class is set to begin next week. It typically takes 30 days or more for a new hire to become fully trained and ready for the road.
Transportation officials are hoping for a full room of eager students next week.
“All they need is a normal driver’s license, and we’ll help them get everything else,” Tucker said.
Other provisions in the new Teamsters contract include:
Attendance incentives: To help cut down on call-outs, employees with perfect nine-week attendance will receive a $125 bonus at the end of each term.
Extra training: The district will add two paid days to the calendar for support staff professional development, including safety and customer service training.
Sick time compensation: Employees who use less than three sick days a year can be compensated for up to five unused sick days at 80 percent of their daily wage.
Route re-bidding process: Bus drivers traditionally bid every three years on the routes they wanted to drive. In order to restructure routes for maximum efficiency, the bidding process will now take place every year.