Education

Pay hike helps CMS hire drivers. But that doesn’t mean your school bus won’t be late.

Waiting for the school bus has been iffy for some CMS families

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has faced some difficulties having enough school bus drivers to deliver children to their schools on time.
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has faced some difficulties having enough school bus drivers to deliver children to their schools on time.

Bus driver vacancies have dropped by more than 75 percent since Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools raised starting pay to $15 an hour in October, the district reported Monday.

In early October, 67 of 1,088 driver jobs were unfilled, with drivers leaving as fast as CMS could hire them. Now only 15 driver jobs are vacant, spokeswoman Renee McCoy said in response to an Observer query.

The pay hike — from $12.87 to $15 an hour — came in response to the difficulty hiring and keeping drivers. That, in turn, led to frustrating delays as drivers made double runs and substitute drivers learned new routes.

Fewer buses are running late now, according to McCoy. In October CMS reported that 92 percent of buses were getting to school on time. That’s up to 94 percent, she said.

The October rate for on-time afternoon drop-offs was in the low to mid 80s, the district said then. Today it’s “approaching 90 percent,” McCoy said.

In a district that has almost 1,100 buses and more than 100,000 riders, even a small percentage running late translates to hundreds or even thousands of riders.

In addition to any unfilled jobs, CMS has to cover for about 30 absent drivers on an average day, CMS Transportation Director Adam Johnson said in October. And drivers have to cope with road construction and rush hour traffic even when jobs are filled.

CMS still has to compete with higher-paying employers that can offer more hours. The city’s Charlotte Area Transit System drivers, for instance, start at about $17.68 an hour. But McCoy said the drop in vacancies is significant: “The pay increase has been very successful as we continue to hire new drivers, and retain our current drivers.”

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Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms
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