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Forsyth County Schools face bus driver shortage

Transportation staff pitches in to assist

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CUMMING, Ga. — Bus drivers in the Forsyth County School System will receive a pay increase Oct. 1 as the district strives to retain — and attract — drivers in the face of regional and national shortages.

Hourly rates for drivers will range from $17.84 to $27.99, depending on experience, with bus monitors starting at $15 an hour. This represents a seven to 17 percent increase for drivers.

“We are making this adjustment to be more competitive in the job market for the recruitment and retention of employees,” Director of Communications Jennifer Caracciolo said.

Although Forsyth County Schools has approximately 400 drivers on board, it is still 75 bus drivers short of full staffing to meet the needs of the system’s nearly 52,000 students.

The issue of driver shortages has become an annual one for systems planners. Forsyth County Schools is one of the fastest-growing in the state. Enrollment has doubled over the past decade.

FY22 budget for Forsyth County Schools increases despite COVID-19

To fill in gaps, Caracciolo said it’s all hands on deck with nearly all transportation employees on the road driving routes as needed.

“Our school bus driver shortage is causing some routes to [often] run behind schedule and has required other routes to be combined to provide transportation to all FCS families where needed,” she said.

Locally, Forsyth County Schools must compete with more than 20 public school systems in the Atlanta metro area for bus drivers, as well as dozens of private schools operating their own fleets of buses.

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While many districts point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason bus drivers are retiring or hard to find, Caracciolo said economics also plays a role.

“On the exit surveys we are seeing people leave to make more money elsewhere or they are selling their homes, based on the [strong] housing market, and moving away,” she explained.

Drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), like bus drivers, are in hot demand. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry expects a national shortage of 160,000 CDL drivers in the next five years as consumers bypass physical stores for online shopping.

Nationally the shortage has prompted districts to offer thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, and even resorting to paying parents to bring their kids to school.

Caracciolo said Forsyth County Schools is not able to offer signing bonuses that many districts are offering through their federal COVID relief funds. District were allocated funding based on their Title 1 (economically disadvantaged) population.

Despite similar enrollment numbers, Forsyth County Schools received about $400 per student, compared to more than $6,200 per students in the Atlanta City School System.

“Unfortunately, we do not have the federal CARES Act funding that the other districts received,” she said. “[But] we do offer our current drivers recruitment and retention bonuses.”

Caracciolo said as the district works on next year’s budget, it will look at compensation for employees, especially for those at the lower end of the pay scale.

“As others in business and retail are increasing their pay, especially those close to the minimum wage, we are competing against them for qualified staff,” she said.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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