One school board member says bus drivers don't earn enough in Manatee County.
School board member John Colon worries the School District of Manatee County is headed toward a crisis when it comes to its transportation needs.
Colon said the district must raise the salaries of school bus drivers or risk facing a situation where it doesn’t have enough drivers to transport the students.
Although he isn’t sure what can be done, Colon said he will address the issue July 24 at the school board’s next workshop.
The district will raise a beginning driver’s salary to $13.93 an hour (from $12.50) starting in the 2018-19 school year, but Colon said it’s not enough. The raise came after voters in March approved a millage increase for the district.
Colon said those who have the responsibility of transporting children should earn more by driving a bus than they could as a beginner in the retail labor force.
“A prospective employee looks at the salary we’re offering with all of the responsibility of being a bus driver,” he said. “Then they interview at Walmart and see they’re offering the same salary to stock shelves. What would you pick?”
Colon said the district has not been historically competitive with surrounding counties in paying bus drivers. However, the current numbers do not support Colon’s case. In Pinellas County in the next school year, drivers earn $13.46 an hour, less than the amount paid by the School District of Manatee County. Next year in the Sarasota County School District, beginning bus drivers will earn $14.25 an hour, slightly more than Manatee.
Even so, Colon wonders if extra money raised by the 1-mill increase could be used to boost bus drivers’ pay even more.
Sandra Ford, the district’s chief of support services who oversees transportation, said the raise from the millage increase will keep bus drivers in the county and will help recruit new drivers.
“You’re always competing with any fair market, that’s not new,” she said.
The district did add a clause in the drivers’ contracts for 2018-19 that provides monetary incentives for attendance. Absenteeism was a problem during the previous school year with an average of 26 bus drivers and attendants being absent per day.
The district employs 149 bus drivers and 121 bus attendants.
Michael Santus is a former bus driver who now works as a dispatcher for the district. He said the low salary forced him to seek another position, and he said it remains an issue when it comes to hiring new drivers.