POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Some Polk County Public School employees will get the biggest raise they’ve seen in recent years.
“As a bus driver these kids become your kids when they’re with you,” President of AFSCME Local 2227 James Hopson said.
Hopson has formed a special bond with the students he takes to school everyday. Though he loves being a bus driver, Hopson said he’s not able to live off his paycheck.
“Gas is up at $4.49 this week," Hopson said. "No, it’s not livable at all. We all have families we have to take care of and it’s not the greatest hours. You have to do extra work to make any hours."
Starting pay for Polk County Public Schools bus drivers is $14.50 per hour. Bus attendants and other support staff like custodians and paraeducators make $11 per hour. The President of Polk Education Association Stephanie Yocum said low wages have caused many to quit their jobs.
“We’re seeing it in the mass exodus of support staff. Statewide we have about 5,000 support staff vacancies across the state of Florida, and we’re just as impacted in Polk as other districts are,” Yocum said.
The school district is now raising the minimum wage for all employees to $15 per hour. Hopson is hoping this will entice people to work for Polk County Public Schools. He said they are currently short 85 bus drivers.
“With the lack of drivers that we have it’s causing students to get to school late, it’s causing driver fatigue,” Hopson said.
In 2020, voters approved a constitutional amendment to gradually increase Florida’s minimum wage each year until it reaches $15 in 2026.
This new Polk County Public Schools minimum wage will take effect July 1.