Bus driver shortage means longer rides for students

Herald/DAVID MORRIS - Bus drivers Tad Hendrickson, left, and Darlene Spraggins make their way toward their buses as they prepare for their afternoon routes throughout the Killeen Independent School District. KISD is short on bus drivers this year, forcing the district to consolidate routes, which means longer rides for students.

Bus drivers employed by Killeen Independent School District get paid less on average than comparable districts around the state, with several having less than a year of experience driving buses.

Director of Transportation Services Edward Thomas said in a Feb. 27 workshop that ex-bus drivers, in exit interviews, say higher pay for more hours elsewhere convince them to leave the district.

There were 50 bus driver vacancies as of the Feb. 27 workshop, according to Chief Human Resources Officer Steve Cook.

Out of those employed by KISD, 50 percent of drivers have less than five years with the district, according to KISD officials.

Average pay for KISD bus drivers is $14.76 an hour, according to the latest auxiliary staffing report released by the district. Average pay of comparable districts around the state is $17.51 an hour.

Average student enrollment for comparable districts around the state is 37,408. Student enrollment for KISD is 43,698.

KISD bus driver pay rate is higher than the average rate of Copperas Cove ISD at $13.53 an hour, and on par with Belton ISD’s $14.64 an hour. But bus drivers, on average, make more in districts just south of Killeen. Leander ISD pays $16.61 an hour on average, Georgetown ISD pays $17.24 and Round Rock ISD pays $18.92.

KISD Superintendent John Craft at the workshop questioned whether hourly rate helps lead to zero percent vacancy. He and district officials said KISD recruits from the same employee pool as large retail chains and other general employers, which makes it hard to consistently compete with often higher hourly wages.

The district has increased starting bus driver pay by $1.48 per hour over the past two years, up to $13.64 for starting bus drivers. Bus drivers also have the opportunity to make various bonuses through the first year.

There is an opportunity for a one-time $400 bonus, plus reimbursement of any Texas Commercial Driver’s License fees after a year of employment, or a two-time $500 bonus plus reimbursement of any CDL fees, one when the driver drives solo for the first time and one after a year of employment.

The Auxiliary Human Resources Department proposed a retention initiative that would result in more frequent pay raises the longer bus drivers stay with a district. Currently, longevity pay only occurs after five years with KISD.

The proposed retention initiative would annually increase hourly wage of bus drivers by 25 cents for the first three years of employment. Raise amounts would increase year after year, reaching a dollar raise after seven years of employment.

Craft is uncertain whether constantly raising wages is the answer to eliminating vacancies.

“That’s the ultimate goal, and the big unknown,” Craft said.

Bus driver recruitment and retention appears to be a constant concern for the district. In October, the district was 42 drivers short of 288 needed bus drivers.

KISD has advertised for bus drivers in local media, on school marquees and on buses in highly visible locations, according to Cook. Recruitment fliers were handed out at several local businesses, and job fairs have also been held in the past months.

Bus driver applicants must have a high school diploma or general education degree (GED). They must also possess a valid Texas Commercial Driver’s License, Class A or B, with passenger and air brake endorsements, or a Class C license or CDL permit.

Also required is a certificate proving current state school bus driver certification issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Testing for that certification is done only at Texas Department of Public Safety supercenters in Waco or Austin.

mpayne@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7553

Herald staff writer

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