NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County’s district-wide bus driver shortage that has caused a host of problems at schools across the county is improving, according to NHCS Transportation Director Ken Nance.
Her investigation revealed that months into the school year, the district was still struggling to get kids to school on time on some of its bus routes, causing stress for parents, students, administrators, and bus drivers alike.
Just days after the story aired, the NHC School Board voted to increase bus driver starting pay to $14 an hour.
Nance says the intent is to raise starting pay to $15 an hour next year.
Two months later, the need for bus drivers is still there but is not nearly as dire as it was in the past.
The school district offers free bus driver training courses. Nance said during their last course, seven of the 10 students passed, which is a far higher rate than usual.
Quamek James, a 20-year-old student, was one of them.
James has worked as a bus monitor since December and just finished his first week of driving and says it has been rewarding.
“It helps with communication skills, hand-eye coordination. There are a lot of things that go into driving the school bus from having to be a parent or teacher or counselor also a driver and you’re doing all of these things with all of these kids and sometimes it’s just a caring voice that makes their day better,” James said.
He says the flexible schedule works for him to balance class and work, and he enjoys the work environment.
“Many of the bus drivers are always supportive, they’ll ask ‘hey you good? you able to pick up these group of students or do I need to get them for you?’ They’re very responsive, they’re very helpful and very supportive. They’re like a big happy family,” he said.
James said the course lasts five days and the school district reimbursed him for his commercial driver’s license fee.
“There they are teaching you the ins and outs of driving with a commercial drivers license, from there you’re getting your DOT which is a federal requirement, getting your CDL permit and going out with one of our drivers Ms. Tracy and then you jump right into it,” he said.
Nance said the district has three or four vacancies and also needs about nine fill in drivers to be at full capacity.