Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said the increase totals $708,801 and would represent an average of 17.6 percent average pay increase for drivers. Hall said the starting pay for bus drivers would increase to $17 starting with the upcoming school year.
Hall said the money would come from within the district’s budget. He said the district is able to fund the raises at this point due to unfilled budgeted teaching positions and difference in pay of senior educators who left the district compared to new educators.
“It usually takes four to five weeks for those numbers to smooth out. We were able to find some money. This is what I think we can handle,” Hall said.
School board chairman Larry Tomlinson highlighted the funds would be reoccurring money and the pay increase would not be considered an absolute fix to district transportation issues.
The increase comes after the district held a special meeting earlier this month to discuss ongoing transportation issues in the district.
“We have to make it an attractive position. I was an educator for 45 years. Bottom line is you pay for what you get,” board member Larry Joe Inman said during the meeting.
Jerry Partlow, Wilson County Schools transportation director, said the district has 439 route assignments each day, which include regular morning and afternoon routes, special needs morning and afternoon routes and midday routes.
He said he would like about 30 additional drivers to cover routes that carry about 10,000 of the district’s 18,000 students.
“There’s never enough school bus drivers and that’s just the long and short of it. All of the dilemmas that our parents are facing, all the dilemmas that I face and my staff face are because of the lack of school bus drivers. They are the backbone of my end of the business and for you all, too,” Partlow said. “I wish there was one silver bullet that I could say, ‘You shoot this and all your problems go away.’ That’s not going to happen. There are a lot of things we need to do.”
Bus driver pay and benefits and discipline issues have emerged as the primary issues with bus driver attraction and retention during several meetings.
District leaders said they would continue to look for feasible solutions to alleviate transportation issues.