By Michelle Cassell
CHAPEL HILL/CARRBORO – Parents can take a deep breath now that there will be enough certified bus drivers to cover all of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School routes on Monday, August 28, the first day of school, according to Andy Jenks, Chief Communications Officer for the CHCCS system.
Routes will be announced starting this evening and they will continue tomorrow and possibly Thursday. According to Jenks, the process is automated and the school transportation department generates emails to all of the families whose children have bus transportation.
Jenks said, “We would like to have more on our roster, but on the first day of school, we expect all our routes to be covered.” For that to be the case all year long, Jenks explained they have to be constantly recruiting and making sure that it is well-known that CHCC schools offer a leading market rate of $20 per hour starting pay for new drivers. Veteran and experienced drivers will earn more.
This comes as welcome news after the community conversation held last spring when CHCCS was in the midst of a shortage. “We raised the minimum pay for all our drivers and also raised the pay for our existing drivers. In addition, we have instituted something that is known as consolidated stops,” Jenks said.
Consolidated stops will allow the same number of drivers to cover more routes in a given day. That will mean there will not be any uncovered routes as happened last year.
Jenks confirmed that there are seven vacancies for bus drivers at the moment, but due to substitute drivers and qualified and licensed office staff who often are called upon, “We are going to be covered on the first morning of school.” Last year there were 27 bus driver vacancies compared to seven this year.
If a driver with a Class D license comes from a school district where they were earning $15 to $17 an hour, and CHCCS offers $20 an hour, they hope to entice drivers to consider CHCCS as a better workplace.
“We like to tell bus drivers that being part of a school system, being the first face that the kids see every day and the last face they see with the school system at the end of the afternoon is appealing,” Jenks said. Being part of the school system, he feels, is a much different environment from driving for a delivery company or any other industry where one does not interact with students. “Our drivers often tell us that seeing the kids in the morning and afternoon is the best part of the day.”
Parents should be on the lookout this week for bus stop assignments. Some of the bus stops may be different this year because of the creation of consolidated routes. This means some stops may be combined so drivers do not have to stop three to five times in the same neighborhood.
“That is going to vary from one neighborhood to the next because we have made a rule that no elementary student may have to walk more than a third of a mile. A middle or high school student may have to walk up to a half mile from the nearest accessible location of bus travel, because in some instances, the home address is not accessible by bus, such as a cul-de-sac or down a one-way street or somewhere a bus can’t turn.”
CHCCS transportation page is located here. One of the features contained on the page is an application called “Here Comes the Bus”. The app “enables you to see the location of your child’s school bus on a smartphone, tablet, or personal computer.”
Parents with questions about the bus routes should call their school first and the school transportation department is reachable at 919-942-5045.
Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news.