UniteGPS – Following protests calling for higher wages in 2021, Stanly County Schools (SCS) bus drivers in NC will soon see bonuses on their January paycheck, as well as pay increases. With resources granted in this year’s state budget, SCS joins thousands of school districts across the country trying to retain more bus drivers with financial incentives. 

According to SCS administrative and board assistant Hope Miller-Drye, any staff member earning less than $75,000 annually can expect a $1,500 “retroactive bonus” paid by Jan. 31, 2022, while those making over $75,000 will receive $1,000. Another result of the 2022 state budget included raising the hourly minimum wage to $15 for school support staff.

Location of Stanly County in NC

Stanly County Schools protests

Years in the making, this development comes after protests and negotiations between workers and the school district. Last November, SCS bus drivers and other classified workers demonstrated during a board meeting, not only calling for improved compensation but more respect and appreciation, particularly during a pandemic.

“We were a part of the frontline, the Stanly County school bus drivers were a part of the frontline, but we never got compensated,” said Ashley Garner, who has been a bus driver with the county for over a decade yet was still earning the same $13.07 hourly wage from when she began. 

For her, a more liveable income is just the beginning of SCS reconciling with bus drivers after years of neglect. In her opinion, there needs to be a consistent pay-raise system based on how long a bus driver has been with the district.

“I think it’s a good start, but it’s not an end… We just need to get a plan that every year, there will be some kind of increase or seniority bonus, we need to work towards that.”

Other bus drivers expressed frustrations with an overall lack of respect and gratitude.

“We do not get thanked for our job, period,” said Jeffrey Watson. “Nobody’s ever said, ‘Hey, you guys are doing a great job, we appreciate your effort,’ The money is important, but for me, it’s the appreciation. I feel like we’re being taken advantage of.”

Money can’t solve everything

While increased salaries for bus drivers in SCS is a milestone, there’s more to this issue other than just the financial components, according to transportation directors like Sue Goyette from the School District of Mauston in Wisconsin. Oftentimes, the federal aid money that school districts receive to galvanize hiring is generally short-term with little emphasis on longevity or better retention.

“You can throw money at some problems, but unfortunately, that’s not going to fix it unless it depends on the rules they give us on how to spend that money,” said Goyette to UniteGPS, who attributes ill-treatment of bus drivers, particularly from students, to be one of the most challenging aspects of the job.

“If it’s just purely about paying drivers, that’s not really fixing the problem, maybe on why or why not we’re getting drivers.”