Gov. Roy Cooper comes to Charlotte to address statewide school bus driver shortages
Gov. Roy Cooper visited a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus lot Tuesday to unveil a plan for more bus driver trainers and call for hefty pay raises.
Although he didn’t have statewide vacancy numbers, Cooper said every district in North Carolina is struggling to hire enough drivers. He’s using $1 million in federal money to hire seven new driver trainers for the Department of Motor Vehicles and add a $3,000 retention bonus to entice current trainers to stick around.
“Every single county has this challenge right now of not having enough bus drivers,” Cooper said. “We need more trainers so that we can get more people through the system, get them out on the road, well trained and driving buses and getting our children to and from school.”
Cooper, a Democrat, called on the Republican-dominated General Assembly to pass a budget that makes the training jobs permanent and includes better pay for school bus drivers. He said his budget proposal includes a 9.5% pay hike for drivers and a $1,500 retention bonus.
CMS reduced its bus fleet by 10% this year because of driver shortages, instituting a controversial express bus plan for some magnet high schools. On the second day of school, the district still has 30 vacancies, out of a fleet of 840.
That’s down from a pre-pandemic peak of about 1,100 buses. But state Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis of Charlotte said busing in CMS remains a huge endeavor.
“You run the largest public transportation system in North Carolina: 22 million miles (a year), 70,000 students, 13,000 bus stops,” he said. “And it’s not just the size, it’s the quality. It’s a newsworthy event when an incident happens on a bus because it happens so infrequently.”