NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The shortage of school bus drivers in New Hanover County is so dire, some buses are routinely 15 to 45 minutes late getting kids to school. Students are sometimes missing class, standing by the road waiting for the bus unsupervised.
New Hanover County Schools is actively seeking drivers to fill the open jobs, which may be a more appealing form of employment than you think.
Tammy Wilson has been driving a school bus for eight years. She hasn’t missed a single day of work for the last seven.
Wilson first took the job because it allowed her to be off when her school age children were home. On the way to school, they rode the bus with her. What started as a job with hours that worked well for her has turned into much more.
“When your kids want to hug you when they get on the bus or hug you when they get off the bus, you know that you are making a positive impact,” Wilson said of the relationship she’s developed with many of her students. “This job offers more to me than it will ever take.”
Wilson runs a round of elementary school students on her first route, and picks up middle-schoolers after that. While she tries to brighten their day, the kids often end up brightening hers. She’s particularly fond of one student on her route who is blind.
“That boy has taught me so much, and has made me so humble, and you just look at things so different," Wilson explained. "He’s always smiling, energetic, happy about everything, and sometimes you just need somebody to put things in perspective for you and show you what matters and what’s important.”
The job means a lot more to her than a paycheck, but the paycheck may be a little bit better than many people would guess. At its November meeting, the New Hanover County Board just increased starting pay for bus drivers to $14/hour.
The average driver gets over $15 an hour. The vast majority are those jobs are full time, with benefits.
“We have great benefits and then I think keeps a lot of people in place,” Wilson said of the job perk.
Administrators agree that the hardest part isn’t keeping their drivers, it’s getting people to apply. Some are intimidated by the idea of driving something the size of a bus, but Wilson says its really not that tricky.
“People...fear the size and it’s really not - I have an SUV and it’s really truly not any different. It’s just longer!” Wilson said.
Wilson says if you have time in your schedule, or are looking to make some extra cash, trying your hand as a bus driver may be the unexpected opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
“It’s just fulfillment for me, you know that all of these people trusted me with their children’s lives to get them to and from school, to me that’s a big big deal,” she added.
New Hanover County Schools currently has six vacancies for their regular bus routes, and is also looking to hire at least a dozen substitute bus drivers. You do have to go through about six weeks of training, including getting your commercial drivers license. The schools will reimburse you for the cost of getting that license once they hire you.
In an effort to recruit more bus drivers and eliminate vacancies, New Hanover County is also considering signing bonuses that have been successful in other school districts, and referral bonuses for current bus drivers who help get a friend to apply for an open position.
They have also discussed putting trainees on the payroll, which should help the school district retain candidates who sometimes take other jobs while they are waiting for their commercial drivers license to be approved.