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Pittman to dip into ARPA funds for school bus drivers

Allison Shelley/Alliance for Excellent Education/Flickr

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced Thursday he will use $4.2 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to try to ease the school bus driver shortage.

Under his plan, drivers would get $5,000 signing and retention bonuses and their aides would get $2,000. The money is to be funneled through Anne Arundel County’s Workforce Development Corporation to the drivers and aides who work for the county’s 15 bus contractors.

Pittman said it would accomplish the same thing as a plan before the county council--attract drivers and aides--but more quickly and avoid rewriting the county budget.

“After talking to the companies that are actually doing the hiring, and our folks at Workforce Development and talking to the school system, we came to the conclusion that we need to move fast, which means direct transfer of funds from Workforce Development to those companies with a hiring and retention bonus,” he explained.

Anne Arundel school officials had sought a $7.4 million supplemental budget to give bus drivers and their aides a raise and $2.1 million in ARPA money for signing and retention bonuses.

That plan, however, would have involved the county council rewriting the budget in the middle of the fiscal year, a lengthy and complicated process.

Anne Arundel, like most school districts in Maryland and the nation, is suffering a chronic bus driver shortage. Pittman says his county is about 70 drivers short, which means routes aren’t covered and parents, many of whom have to get to work, are left wondering whether their children’s bus is going to show up.

“It’s not fair to the kids and it’s not fair to the parents,” he said. “We had to provide a financial incentive so these companies could hire more drivers and get them on the job.”

He said the administration will withdraw the budget rewrite bill and he expects the school board to include raises for bus drivers in its next budget.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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