POLK COUNTY,Fla — Polk County school bus drivers are getting a pay raise. The increase comes at a time when the school district is seeing a shortage of drivers.
“It’s really hard to pay your bills at $13.40 an hour,” said James Hopson, Vice President of Bus Drivers and Attendants for AFSCME Local 2227.
Hopson is a bus driver for Polk County Schools. He said for the past three years, AFSCME Local 2227, the union representing bus drivers has been asking them for higher pay.
“We had to do something in order to be able to bring money to the table to entice people to come and work for Polk County Public Schools,” Hopson said.
This week, the school board approved pay raises for the district’s bus drivers, attendants, custodians, and other employee groups.
Entry-level full-time drivers will make $14.50, up from $13.40 per hour. Veteran bus drivers will also see pay increases, depending on their years of experience. Hopson said they were losing bus drivers because of inadequate pay.
“We couldn’t even get bus drivers in the door at this point. They'd come, they’d laugh at us, and they’d take their applications back out. And the ones that we were having, they couldn’t get money that would be equal to what they could get paid elsewhere,” Hopson said.
Polk County Public Schools is currently short more than 80 bus drivers. Hopson said between the driver shortage and COVID-19, their job has become increasingly difficult.
“It’s been very difficult because we still have all the COVID protocols in place. We are still having to do extra cleaning, we’re still having to do seating charts, we’re still having to do extra precautions in order to keep these children safe. Now, with the shortage that we have on top of all of that stuff, we are having to go back out and do two loads. Some of us have to do three loads,” said Hopson.
Hopson said this pay raise could mean more new hires.
The district is also implementing a $500 retention bonus for newly hired drivers. The pay raise is retroactive to July 1, 2021.