Wake will offer new attendance bonuses. Will it keep more school bus drivers working?

Wake County is hoping a new $200 per month attendance bonus will encourage more school bus drivers to come in each day and leave fewer students without bus service.

The Wake County school board approved a new bonus Tuesday that would pay up to $200 a month and $2,000 a year for transportation employees, such as bus drivers, who have perfect attendance.

The bonus comes at a time when Wake has a 33% bus driver vacancy rate that’s forcing families to provide their own transportation when the bus doesn’t come.

“Right now we are at such dire straits to fill bus seats and get students to school everyday that every day a bus driver is off, 120 students are at risk of not being able to get to school for their education,” Bob Snidemiller, Wake’s senior director of transportation, told the board on Tuesday.

The new bonus would cover drivers from March 27, 2023 to April 30, 2024 and cost up to $1.7 million. Every bus driver, bus team leader, safety assistant and mechanic would be eligible to receive the perfect attendance bonus.

In addition to the high driver vacancy rate, Snidemiller said they have a vacancy rate of 35% for bus safety assistants and 29% for bus mechanics. He said they’re also dealing with a daily 12% to 15% employee absenteeism rate.

“We hope that this attendance bonus will reduce the number of uncovered runs and serve as a strategy for recruitment and retention,” Snidemiller said.

Wake currently offers an attendance bonus paying up to $500 a semester and $1,000 for the school year to bus drivers and bus team leaders. That program, which will still continue, allows for up to two missed days per semester.

Wake says 47% of the 660 eligible employers qualify under the existing bonus program.

Demand for bus drivers

There’s a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers.

At the start of the school year, North Carolina superintendents estimated their districts had 1,342 bus driver vacancies. That’s out of around 14,000 school buses that run each day.

School districts have turned to higher pay and bonuses to recruit drivers.

In February, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board voted to pay new bus drivers a starting salary of $20 an hour. It’s the highest among Triangle districts. Wake’s starting salary for school bus drivers is $17.20 an hour.

“This will do a lot to really increase the stability for families that are relying on these bus routes,” school board vice chair Chris Heagarty said of the new attendance bonus.