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CMS to raise pay for bus drivers in effort to compete with other Charlotte-area districts


The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted Tuesday to hire fewer drivers but pay them more, in a bid to compete with nearby districts and other employers for drivers.

The board had already approved using federal COVID-19 relief money to provide $1,000 hiring bonuses for new drivers and the same amount as retention bonuses for existing ones. Not long ago the district boosted starting pay to $15.75 an hour.

But Human Resources Chief Christine Pejot says that hasn’t been enough to get and keep drivers amid a labor shortage, in a region where other districts are making similar moves.

"What’s happening in the local market is that not only surrounding districts but also our primary competitors here within Charlotte have gone through different levels of pay increases over the last year or so," she said. "And it’s almost created a competitive bid process for drivers."

Two months into the school year, CMS has 50 vacancies, with another 50 drivers on extended leaves. On any given day, another 30 or more are likely to be absent. That's in a district that has 1,128 driver positions.

“We are basically covering 140 vacancies every day,” said transportation director Adam Johnson.

The new pay plan boosts starting pay to $17.75 an hour and will boost pay for experienced drivers by $2 to $3 an hour. The cost comes to almost $5 million, which comes from consolidating routes and trimming about 100 buses from the fleet. Pejot said the savings on salaries and maintenance means the district can afford the higher wages without relying on federal aid, which will eventually run out.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.