GREENSBORO — Facing a growing shortage of school bus drivers, the Guilford County Board of Education voted Thursday to provide up to $2 million in bonuses and incentives for bus drivers this school year.
Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras recommended that the district use money leftover from last school year’s budget to pay for the bonuses.
She did not spell out how much bonuses would be. However, Contereras and her staff said they wanted to provide opportunities for drivers to earn bonuses both before and after winter break, and to come up with some sort of incentive for drivers to pick up hard-to-staff routes.
The district started the year with about 38 vacant routes, but that number has grown to 52, according to Chief Human Resources Officer Shirley Morrison.
School administrators stressed school districts around the state and country face the same shortage due to low U.S. unemployment and other factors. They said they badly need to hang on to the school bus drivers they have, and hope that new bonuses and incentives could help make that possible.
The bonuses are a one-time expenditure, not a recurring expense in the budget like a pay raise would be.
Board members had hoped to give bus drivers a pay raise this year and included $1 million for that in the budget passed this spring.
However, county commissioners gave the district less than half of the $10 million increase school officials sought for this academic year. Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry had said it was unlikely the bus pay increase would be included in the final budget.
The district's budget has not been finalized because the state budget remains in limbo. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the General Assembly’s budget and legislators have not been able to override that veto or come to an agreement or compromise.
School board member Anita Sharpe made a motion Thursday to approve the $2 million contingent on the superintendent sharing with the board a plan for how they would give out the bonuses and incentives.
Contreras replied that the administration always shares such plans with the board once the staff makes them, but that creation of a plan follows the board approving the expenditure.
Board members voted 5-4 to approve Sharpe’s motion.
Board members also voted to use $1 million from the fund balance to get outside help with a major transition for the school district, which will be putting in new software for payroll, finance and human resources after more than two decades using the same system. They want outside help planning for the change, designing how the software will work and implementing the changes.