More raises for bus drivers

Published 1:18 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

Thornton warns of ‘breaking point’ that could close schools

School bus drivers and bus assistants working for Isle of Wight County Schools will receive another raise starting Feb. 1.

Isle of Wight’s School Board voted unanimously on Jan. 13 to set a new minimum base pay of $20 per hour for all bus drivers, and $15 per hour for bus assistants.

The School Board had previously voted to raise the minimum hourly rate for drivers from $13.50 to $14.50 in September, and approved a second raise to $15.50 in October in hopes of combatting a nationwide shortage of drivers. That same month, they’d also voted to move the minimum hourly rate for bus assistants from $9.50 to $10.

Per the School Board’s latest vote, bus drivers will also receive an additional $350 to their base pay for each year of verified experience — meaning a driver with 10 years of experience would receive an additional $3,500 per year.

Isle of Wight began the current school year eight drivers short, and according to a Jan. 7 letter Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton wrote to parents, the situation has become even more dire with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Thornton informed the School Board at its Jan. 6 meeting that as of that morning, Isle of Wight had 17 drivers out.

“When we hit the breaking point, and we cannot get the kids here, we’re going to have to close the school,” Thornton said.

According to Thornton’s letter, Isle of Wight’s goal is to provide parents one day’s notice of school closures due to transportation staff absences. As a stop-gap measure, the school system has been extending drivers’ routes — even doubling them — but this has created a “domino effect of students arriving late to school or home.”

Interim operations director Todd Christiansen has proposed funding the latest unplanned raises with federal funds provided to school districts via the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to help them reopen and stay open during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To make that happen, Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors — which funds Isle of Wight County Schools — must approve the change in the categorical allotment for the federal funds.