Durham school leaders agree to increase pay for bus drivers amid shortage

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – All Durham Public School bus drivers will receive a raise. The move comes as the district looks to fill approximately 130 bus driver positions.

“We need to rebuild our fleet,” said Matthew Palmer, DPS Director of Strategic Planning Initiatives. “We are down over 100 drivers, so much of what you hear, so much of what you feel and see is a function of every day our team trying to make it work that day.”

The board unanimously approved the district’s proposal in Thursday night’s board meeting. Starting salaries will go from $16.25 to $17.00 an hour. The 30-year maximum salary will go from $20.50 to $24.00 an hour.

Dozens of bus drivers came to the meeting, including Cora Tucker who recently left the job.

“I had to give up my job as of last week because I could not afford to be a bus driver any longer,” Tucker said. “Durham has outpriced us.”

DPS bus driver Rashelle Mclain has been on the job for 19 years. She said she wants to see a bigger gap between starting and experienced drivers. She will be paid $20.75 under the new salary and would like to see it go up to $21 or $22 an hour.

“You guys are doing everything that you could possibly do to get people in the door, I’m not comfortable with a new hiree making almost what I make and I’ve been here 19 years. It’s not fair to me,” Mclain said.

The raise means DPS bus drivers will be paid more than Wake County Public School System bus drivers at all levels, according to DPS.

The current DPS bus driver shortage is leading to delays for students. Parent Joy Lampkin Foster said some parents have to pay for taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts to send kids to school.

“Kids are standing out exposed in some of our most at-risk communities for sometimes hours at a time to make sure that they are able to get to school and then the bus doesn’t show up and they don’t get to school anyway,” Foster said.

The new raise ranges from a 4.6 to 17.1 percent increase. The district said it will cost $1.2 million a year.

Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said the district is looking at conducting a salary study.

“We are really willing to do more. I understand the cost of living is really high in Durham and the Triangle area. That’s the reason why we’re gonna do that study and we’ll bring the recommendation to the board probably next year,” Mubenga said.

Since the summer, DPS has offered a $2,000 sign-on bonus for new drivers and a $1,000 referral bonus for current employees. As part of an effort to recruit, the district adds it will pay for CDL license training.

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