CMS gives bus drivers a pay raise

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that all bus drivers would earn $15 an hour, making them the highest-paid drivers in the state. The district has 1,000 drivers and the raise will affect 700 of them. The 300 bus drivers who were already earning $15 an hour will receive an increase of 50 cents per hour, with all raises effective Oct. 1.

"This is great news for our drivers and great news for their passengers – our students," said Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent. "We think this will increase our recruitment and retention rates significantly. It is also intended to help us achieve the goals in our 2024 strategic plan, including focusing on the instructional core and improving academic performance."

The increase was accomplished by redirecting funds already in the transportation budget, said Adam Johnson, executive director of transportation and the driving force behind the increase.

"We had more than 50 positions that were funded but not filled," Johnson said. "We were able to use that money, which was being held aside, to give our bus drivers a much-deserved hourly raise."

Earlier this year, the state raised the minimum rate to $15 for all state employees who are paid on an hourly basis but excluded from the increase school were district hourly employees, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians. 

"We value our drivers, who perform such an important role in getting kids to school each day," said Dr. Wilcox. "This raise recognizes their value to our district."

Dr. Wilcox said that on-time arrivals at school will help the district improve on-time attendance and maximize instructional time.

"This is a shining example of how every department has a role to play in the strategic plan as we move forward," he said. "Departmental plans can drive implementation of the overall strategies in What Matters Most. Adam's leadership in Transportation will help us improve academic results."

CMS, like many other districts in the state, has struggled to recruit and retain bus drivers. As of Oct. 5, CMS had more than 60 bus-driver vacancies and is continuing to recruit new drivers. 

"For us, the issue isn't hiring as much as retaining the people we hire," Johnson said. "This year, we've hired more than 100 drivers and lost 90 drivers. We hope that this raise will improve retention rates, as well as morale."

To fill the gaps created by driver vacancies, the district has been using lead drivers and others. Johnson has been driving a bus as needed since the school year began Aug. 27.

"Although I've enjoyed driving, I really need to be able to focus on leading the Transportation Department," Johnson said. "So I'm ready to hang up my keys and drive a desk for a while!"