Mom: Wake County bus driver shortage may be endangering children

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Wake County mother, who said a man preyed on her daughter at her bus stop Monday morning, claims a delayed school bus is partly to blame.

The incident happened on the corner of Method Road and Woods Place in west Raleigh.

A 16-year-old Athens Drive High School student said a man driving a white pickup truck with black lettering on the side, pulled up on the wrong side of the road to get next to her. She said he yelled lewd comments at her and told her to get in the truck.

The girl's mother, Wanda Coker, said if her school bus had been on time that morning, she believes the incident could have been avoided.

She said her daughter's bus was running an hour late Monday. By the time her daughter went to the bus stop to get picked up, everyone else had found a ride to school.

"She was the only one," Coker said as she remembered the phone call she got from her daughter. "She said, 'Mama, I'm the only one out here. All the other students have left.'"

Moments later, the teen ran home crying, telling her mom about the man who pulled up next to her and tried luring her away.

"Somebody had tried to make my baby get in the car with them," she said.

Wake County Board of Education Chair Christine Kushner said a bus driver shortage that's gone on for several years is causing the delay along bus routes.

"It seems like it's gotten more pronounced over the last two years with the recession ending and more jobs being available for drivers," said Kushner. "We've seen some turnover."

Right now, there are 820 bus drivers serving 75,000 Wake County students who ride the bus to and from school. That's 90 drivers short of what the district needs to ensure kids get to school on time.

"I want to make sure that we get better transportation for our kids," Kushner said.

Beginning salary for bus drivers is $12.18 an hour, but Kushner wants to raise that by 3 percent next year.

She said installing cameras on buses is also helping curb bad student behavior, another factor affecting driver retention.

While Coker said she understands some delays, her daughter just needs a ride she can count on.

"No one can dictate Mother Nature, but someone can dictate that bus drivers get here on time," said Coker.

Kushner also said a dozen Wake County schools will operate on a different bell schedule beginning next fall, to allow more time for students to get to class in the mornings.

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