Polk County Public Schools is moving forward with plans to increase the starting pay for bus drivers and has reduced the educational requirements to attract more applicants.
During tonight’s meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to raise the starting base pay for bus drivers to $13.40 per hour.
Currently, all drivers start as substitutes, earning $10 an hour. They can become appointed, full-time bus drivers in a matter of a few weeks or less, at which time they earn $12.18 per hour.
The proposed starting pay increase is part of a larger tentative compromise that was recently negotiated with one of the district’s employee unions.
This tentative agreement must go for a vote before the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2227, which represents about 2,500 employees, including custodians, bus drivers and school nutrition personnel.
If the new bus driver pay is approved, Polk County Public Schools would become one of the highest-paying school districts in Central Florida for bus drivers.
“Our bus drivers are absolutely essential to our mission of delivering high-quality education. They set the tone for the students’ days. We train them to set an environment that is conducive to learning as soon as the student gets on the bus,” said Rob Davis, assistant superintendent of support services.
“By raising our pay for bus drivers, Polk County Public Schools will be more competitive against surrounding counties as well as the charter schools within our district. Many of our bus drivers could very easily go work across the county line. They’re looking for more pay. I’m very pleased we are working with AFSCME toward an agreement that will increase our bus drivers’ pay — because they deserve it.”
In addition to this tentative agreement, School Board members also voted (unanimously) to change the job description for bus drivers.
A high school diploma or GED is no longer a requirement for being a permanent bus driver. This educational background is now only preferred.
“We strive to provide the very best education and services to our students. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit bus drivers,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “We are pleased by the Board’s decision to make the high school diploma/GED ‘preferred’ but not required of our bus drivers. This will make a larger pool of applicants eligible to drive for Polk County Public Schools and, we expect, it will make it easier to fill those crucial positions. We look forward to sharing this information with our community and getting more bus drivers on the road.”
The tentative agreement with AFSCME also provides further compensation, including a 1.5 percent increase for a cost of living adjustment. This tentative agreement and its other proposed compensation must go before the union for a vote.