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Wake County, students grapple with bus driver shortage

A sign indicates a no-student drop-off zone with Wake County public school buses in the background.
Brian Batista
A sign indicates a no-student drop-off zone with Wake County public school buses in the background.

As classes begin in Wake County Public Schools, some students may be waiting longer at the bus stop.

Transportation director Bob Snidemiller told the school board this week that the district has lost over 169 bus drivers since 2019.

Snidemiller is attempting to entice new drivers with higher pay and bonuses. According to WRAL, hourly pay for school bus drivers in the county is going up from $16.20 to $17.20.

"Our July class we had 32 applicants, and we are looking to probably net four or five drivers out of that class,” he said. “Which is pretty typical by the time they go through, the background checks, then they go through the class and they have to pass an exam."

So far, Wake County has eliminated 76 routes. Some buses may not arrive at school until five minutes before classes start. In addition to fewer routes, district buses will have to serve four new schools opening this year.

Snidemiller said the district has just enough drivers to cover all the routes, along with backups in case someone calls out. On a given day, about 5% of drivers call out.

"But our bus drivers are human, like the rest of us they get sick," he said. "And we may exceed the 5% buffer that we have on any given day. Which unfortunately means we would have uncovered bus routes."

Classes begin at public schools in Wake County on Aug. 29. Teachers returned on Wednesday.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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