ROANOKE, Va. – The nationwide bus driver shortage is affecting more schools in southwest Virginia. On Thursday night, Roanoke County announced it's doubling down on cash handouts to keep drivers on the job and hire new ones.
The Roanoke City school system has struggled since day one with issues due to its own driver shortage. But Roanoke County said it isn't experiencing the widespread issues like the city did because it has more people who can step in and fill the gaps.
Roanoke County was the latest school division to announce it's been sacked with the problem, leading Facilities and Operations Director Mark Kitta to put out an all-call.
"It is very difficult to find people who want to work that morning shift and then afternoon shift, and we want to give people a little bit of an incentive," Kitta said.
On Thursday night, the school board approved new incentives to keep current drivers on board and bring new drivers to the county. The board mentioned that other divisions are having the same problem, and Vice-Chairman Tim Greenway is thankful the county is getting out ahead of it.
"This is, in my mind, the second most important job in this school division," Greenway said.
Roanoke County is short nine regular drivers and 10 substitute drivers, and the county is willing to fork over $500,000 to fix it.
The county is offering $500 in referral bonuses and $3,000 to both drivers who stay with the division and new drivers who sign on. That's compared to the $2,500 Roanoke City's vendor, Durham School Services, is offering to get drivers to apply.
"We saw what the city was doing, and I brought it to a meeting with the superintendent and human resources and those kinds of things, and the committee had decided that it would be better for us to offer a little bit higher," Kitta said.
This is the first time Roanoke County has had to resort to this, and staff are getting even more creative in their efforts than before. They're proposing combining two hard-to-fill positions, cafeteria staff and bus drivers, into one position that would be a full-time, benefits-eligible position. Separately, both positions are classified as part-time and are only eligible for part-time benefits.
"The schedule tends to allow a partnering between those two jobs, so for people who are interested in doing both kinds of work it's going to be a great fit," Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely said.
School leaders said the incentives package will be worked into the regular human resources budget, so no major cuts are needed. They also said that at this time, this incentive program would only be for this school year.