Lee County Schools hopes waiving requirements, adding incentives will fill bus driver staff

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Photo by WINK News.

It is no secret that the School District of Lee County is short bus drivers and it is causing all kinds of problems. A vote Tuesday evening by the school board may change that.

“We finished the year short bus drivers,” said Rob Spicker, assistant director of Media Relations and Public Information at the School District of Lee County. “We do not want to start the year short.”

The School District of Lee County said the shortage had taken a toll.

“We’re mixing up routes, pulling in subs,” Spicker said, “and that chess game is more like dominoes and it just starts falling and becoming a problem.”

Parents said something has to change, including Douglas Lee, who believes the district has to improve the incentives for drivers better.

The district is heeding that advice to encourage more applicants. Starting July 1, drivers will make at least $16 an hour. In Collier and Charlotte counties, school bus drivers make under $15 an hour. The district needs 26 more drivers to be at full staff.

On Tuesday evening, the Lee County School Board voted on waiving the requirement for drivers to have a high school diploma or GED for another year. The school board approved a motion in a seven-to-zero vote. The move opens the job to around 60,000 more adults in Lee County, according to Census data.

“They’ve got five different exams they’re going to have to pass to drive that bus,” Spicker said. “Just because they don’t have a high school diploma, doesn’t mean they have not shown that they are eligible to drive students.”

On top of that, in February it added on more incentives for drivers, paying around $300 in upfront costs toward licensing, fingerprinting and other tests for new hires. The district allocates the capital behind those incentives from the general fund and the operational budget.

Spicker said the numbers do not lie. In 2015, the district hired 80 new drivers. The next year, when it added back those incentives, new hires more than doubled.

Parents that we spoke with said we would have to wait and see if it works this time.

“I think that’s important,” Lee said, “but the market will determine whether that’s enough by how many more applicants they get.”

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