New Hanover County looking for new recruits to remedy school bus driver shortage

New Hanover County Schools is looking for school bus drivers to start as soon as possible.
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 1:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Schools is looking for school bus drivers to start as soon as possible. Right now, the district has more routes than drivers and wants to fill that gap.

The district is hosting a recruitment fair on Saturday, April 22, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Hoggard High School for bus drivers, electricians, teachers, substitutes and more.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of being a school bus driver or other positions available districtwide, click here. As of Friday afternoon, the school’s website isn’t accepting applicant registrations for the career fair.

“We’ve had a lot of success bringing on new bus drivers this year, but we also have challenges with just life happening,” said Debbie Trafton, the district’s transportation director. “People who have had to either resign or take extended leaves of absence to deal with their issues. We’re facing days we have 15 buses without a bus driver.”

Stephanie Thomas is a retired northern transplant, now planted behind the wheel of a big yellow bus. She has 15 years of driving experience and came to southeastern North Carolina and was hired immediately.

“I retired, and I came here and was hired the day I walked in,” Thomas said. “It would be wonderful to hire more drivers. It would be a benefit for the kids, it would be a benefit and take the stress off the drivers. It would also mean less parents would be driving their kids and that would take less traffic off the roads, too.”

Thomas is one of several drivers now working more than 12 hours a day to help pick up the slack on several runs.

“I love it, but we need the help,” Kenny Grady said.

Grady is a 71-year-old driver who also spends a lot of his time coaching ball at the MLK Center in Wilmington and at Maides Park. But right now, he’s spending more than 60 hours a week behind the wheel of his bus.

“The extra drivers would help get those routes done, that’s for sure,” he said.

New Hanover County Schools aren’t the only district with this problem.

Governor Roy Cooper brought up the shortage in his State of the State address. At the start of the school year, roughly 1,300 bus driver vacancies were on the books.

“We have the money this year, and next, to fund the plan,” Cooper said. “If we’re smart about our tax policy, we can fund it in the future. The budget I will present to you invests in the entire education plan ordered by the court. It gives teachers and principals double-digit raises, it keeps the buses running.”

New Hanover County Schools has known for some time that the competition is tough.

“Our board raised the pay to a more competitive wage,” said Trafton. “We also have a $1,000 signing bonus and we offer an attendance bonus as well to keep people behind the wheel.”