Breaking News
More () »

To combat driver shortage, school district eyes making teaching assistants fill-in bus drivers

Opponents are concerned the decision could hinder the hiring of teaching assistants.

SALISBURY, N.C. — Rowan-Salisbury School leaders are proposing a new way to combat bus driver staffing shortages.

On Monday the board of education laid out a new proposal that would allow some teaching assistants in the district to also be substitute bus drivers. Some officials are hopeful this could help make a difference while others fear it could create more issues filling vacant positions for teaching assistants (TAs). 

“For the district, I’m told we have 20-to-25 vacancies every day and it fluctuates,” said Dean Hunter, chairman of the board of education.

School districts across the country are facing a shortage of bus drivers and the Rowan-Salisbury school system is one of them.

“Currently, the challenge is to find creative ways to hire and retain bus drivers,” explained Hunter.

Salaries for bus drivers, among other jobs, were recently increased to make them more attractive.

“It’s really like a part-time job and it is paying a whole lot better than it was last year. We've worked hard to try and create higher pay for our TA’s and higher pay for our bus drivers. The bus drivers are making even more money because it's not something that everybody wants to do,” said Brian Hightower, a board member.

Under the “dual employment policy,” newly and re-hired teacher’s assistants would be required to be substitute school bus drivers when needed. They would be required to maintain a valid driver’s license and all other certifications needed to drive a school bus. 

“If they are a dual employee and they are a TA, they get the TA rate,” Hunter said. “However, they also get the bus driver’s pay. Right now, starting pay, no experience is over $16 an hour for bus drivers.”

Hunter said the position has some benefits.

“For our bus drivers, who work two to three hours in the morning and two to three hours in the afternoon... By having a TA doing that, then they are getting more hours themselves,” Hunter said.

Hightower has some reservations about the policy.

“We've got to make sure that whatever we're implementing is not going to keep us from being able to hire qualified TAs to do a great job in the classroom,” Hightower said. "We don't want to run them off by forcing them to drive a bus route.”

He’s worried it will deter some potential new employees from applying.

“It's not an easy job. You have to get up early, and you have to stay late. And, learning the roads and driving in difficult conditions, and then dealing with some discipline issues that you may have on the bus,” Hightower said. “I think not every TA that wants to go into the business of helping out education and being here for our kids is going to want to drive a bus.”

Safety is also a concern.

“We have to make sure that we have great drivers that can drive these routes and do all the things that need to be done to keep everybody safe,” Hightower continued. “I think that's the number one priority when you're talking about public education.”

As bus driver positions get filled, Hunter said TA’s bus driving duties would decrease.

“The policy would open the possibility of TA’s not driving every day but are required to be a driver so that they could be a substitute or fill in,” Hunter said.

There are some exemptions for medical conditions and some exceptions in the policy.

“Exceptional Children Teachers Assistants before were not even able to, not required but they were not able to drive a bus,” Hunter said. “My understanding is some would like to do so. So this makes an exception so they are not required, but able to do so if they would like to do it.”

Monday is the first reading of the proposal.

“This would become a board policy if we agree on it but this is something the administration feels will potentially increase the employment of bus drivers,” Hunter said.

He expects to get feedback on the proposal and depending on how the meeting goes it could be up for a vote next month.

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Before You Leave, Check This Out