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CHCCS increases pay, consolidates bus stops to address driver shortage

As Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools prepare for the upcoming school year, an hurdle emerges—there’s a concerning shortage of bus drivers.

All morning bus routes for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will be covered on Aug. 28 for the first day of school, Andy Jenks, chief communications officer for the district, said. 

CHCCS is implementing pay raises and consolidating bus stops to address the bus driver shortage ahead of the 2023-24 school year, he said.

Jenks said the consolidated bus routes are intended to make the drives more efficient, with fewer stops per neighborhood. With this change, some children may have different stops to walk to than they did before. But, he said the centralization of stops will not require elementary students to walk more than one-third of a mile, or middle and high school students to walk more than half a mile.

Eric Rowell, a CHCCS bus driver of over half a decade, said that, even though his route has changed this year, these changes should make his drive more efficient when school starts on Monday.

“It's just a lot better when you have a lot more kids at certain stops because then you can pick them all up at once. It helps you get them to school on time,” Rowell said.

In addition to making fewer stops, bus drivers will also receive a higher starting pay.

“If you come in to drive a bus for us, you know you're gonna get 25 hours a week, and our starting scale is at $20 an hour for new drivers,” André Stewart, the CHCCS chief operations officer, said.

The $20 starting pay is an increase from the $15-$17 starting rate in previous years, Jenks said.

"It's competitive out there and so we'll have to keep an eye on our staffing levels, and if there are additional changes that we need to make, I think we'll carefully consider those options," he said. "But we'll do everything we can to not just recruit new drivers but to retain the ones that we do have."

Stewart said the main issues CHCCS dealt with last year consisted of buses running late or being uncovered. Uncovered buses — vehicles without active drivers for the routes that morning — caused many buses to turn around and start second routes after dropping their first groups off at school, he said.

Stewart also said buses that were running late would sometimes bring children to school 45 to 60 minutes into the day, causing them to miss vital instructional time.

According to Jenks, there were 27 bus driver vacancies during the 2022-23 school year. This year, he said there are only seven bus driver vacancies, with substitute bus drivers and licensed office staff filling in where needed.

Stewart said he hopes to alleviate district staff of bus driving responsibilities by adding necessary bus drivers this upcoming school year.

“Our goal remains the same: to be as efficient as we possibly can be,” he said.

@DTHCityState | 

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