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FCPS sees increase in bus driver applicants after signing bonus offer

While there is an effort to recruit more drivers, there are questions about what the school district should be doing to retain longtime drivers.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — School districts in the DMV continue to ramp up efforts and incentives to recruit more bus drivers amid a severe school bus shortage across the country.

Shawnna Yashar said her son who attends high school in Fairfax County is late to his first period at least twice a week. Buses have been arriving 30 to 40 minutes late to and from school within the last few weeks. She expected hiccups in the beginning but the lack of drivers early on prompted her to drop off her other child by herself.

"They're not consistent and we don't know the days they will happen," Yashar said. "It's definitely not ideal to have to drop everything to drive him to school to hopefully get him there before he misses too much of his first period."

Yashar wished they got more notice when the buses would arrive late so they could set up a carpool system in the community. 

A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson said the district is still seeing higher than the typical driver vacancies for this time of year. Employment numbers are changing by the day. 

The school system announced a $3,000 recruitment bonus for new drivers last month and increased the starting pay to $22.91 per hour. FCPS said there has been an increase in the number of applicants since the bonus announcement. Many are still in training and new hires are ongoing. 

FPCS did not reveal the exact number of applicants and how many are in training. 

The school board approved a 2.5% increase in pay to longtime bus drivers whose salaries were not increased in August. Drivers are also paid a $35 per trip stipend for driving for afterschool enrichment programs.

While there is some progress in recruitment, Kimberly Adams of Fairfax Education Association is concerned about how FCPS is retaining seasoned drivers. 

"Workers in transportation have been increasingly frustrated with the perceived lack of respect from supervisors when it comes to all issues they face on the job," Adams said. "During a global pandemic, FCPS drivers and attendants have rolled with the punches and continued to show up for work even without many of the same provisions that surrounding counties offer (higher starting pay, better benefits, more accountability from supervisors). The least they deserve is proper compensation and respect for their time."

Adams said some drivers have moved to other districts that implemented higher compensation before Fairfax County or are looking at other jobs. 

A few routes for FCPS drivers have been combined and some double-backs or second runs continue.

"The 2.5% raise to the salary scale for drivers with seniority is hardly enough to make things equal," Adams added. "With extra COVID funds still available, there's no reason transportation can't get the much needed relief they need. We don't want to discourage the loyal drivers we do have to leave."

In August, FCPS asked parents to walk or drive with their child amid the shortage, but a spokesperson recently said the department has not reiterated or formalized a similar request.

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