Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials say more bus drivers are leaving the school system for higher paying jobs. District officials are not only grappling with filling the vacant spots, but also making sure students are arriving home on time.
At the beginning of the school year, more than 40 CMS bus driver positions were vacant. CMS officials were optimistic that they would be filled soon, since about 70 people were scheduled for bus driver training classes in August and September. But officials now say they have lost drivers to higher paying jobs and have 67 openings.
CMS bus drivers' starting pay is $12.87 an hour. To be more competitive in their recruiting efforts and to hold on to current drivers, CMS officials say they hope to find a way soon to increase drivers’ pay.
In the meantime, substitutes and transportation administration officials are filling in as drivers. The necessary rotation of drivers may be one of the reasons thousands of students in the school system are late getting to and from school daily. CMS officials say delays are averaging 30 to 60 minutes, with most being in the afternoon.
“My poor daughter, she just turned five and it’s a long day for her — for both the kids," Catherine Klueppel of Ballantyne said. "They’re not home with the recent delays until five o'clock."
Klueppel’s children, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, ride the bus together to Waddell Language Academy on Nations Ford Road. Klueppel said her children are scheduled to get home at 4:45 p.m. She and her husband use the CMS app to track their children’s bus every day. She was scared while watching the app this past Tuesday.
“It got to Pineville and the bus wasn’t moving and we were afraid something terrible had happened," Klueppel said. "And we were staring at our phones on the app at home for 45 minutes, trying to figure out what was going on.”
Klueppel said she and her husband called the school and CMS’ transportation department.
“My husband was on hold with the CMS transportation help line for well over a half an hour and it was very frustrating and scary," she said. "No one came on the line, and we finally saw the bus move on the app. The bus driver said he was still in training and apologized and didn’t give us a reason."
Klueppel said her children arrived home around 6:15 p.m. that day. She said the daily late arrivals cause her son to miss his tutoring sessions, and also cut into both children’s afterschool play time. Klueppel said they have complained to district officials, but have not received a response so far.
According to CMS officials, about 92 percent of their buses arrived on time this past Wednesday morning. The evening the Klueppels' children were 90 minutes late, only 82 percent of students arrived home on schedule.