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Anne Arundel County tries to tackle bus driver shortage with pay hikes

Baltimore is one of many US school districts facing a severe, pandemic-related shortage of school bus drivers. Baltimore City offers parents a $250 monthly transportation stipend, but ride-share costs usually far exceed that. (photo by Bernard Moehle/Wikimedia/CC)
Bernard Moehle/Wikimedia/CC
There's a national shortage of school bus drivers.

With barely a month to go before schools reopen, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is searching for ways to ease the county’s continuing school bus driver shortage.

He warned in his weekly news conference Tuesday that despite the $4.4 million in signing and retention bonuses for drivers and aids that he allocated last year, the school system will be short of drivers.

And with the new, compressed starting times the county school board adopted, drivers won't be able to drive as many routes, he said.

“So they're going to need additional drivers on top of the ones that they've had in the past. And so I'm putting out a call for bus drivers.”

The way to do that, he said, is to offer more money to compete with private companies that pay more. Drivers earn roughly between $20 and $25 an hour but often work part-time.

“We were trying to make sure that every bus driver was getting what amounted to a pay increase of $5 an hour over what they were getting before to incentivize the work and make it possible to live on the wage of a school bus driver,” Pittman said.

But the school board didn’t add as much money in its budget as he had expected, making it impossible to give the drivers that $5 an hour raise, he said.

Now, he’s going to use some of the county’s federal coronavirus pandemic relief American Rescue Plan Act money for the $5 an hour raises.

He called it “a good incentive.”

“But we need to get the word out,” he added. “And we need to let people know that this really is a way to serve the kids and the families of Anne Arundel County.”

He said the county’s Workforce Development Corporation offers a free training program for drivers.

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