WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a unanimous decision, the Wake County School Board approved a plan that gives new drivers a $1,200 sign-on bonus in one lump sum on their first check instead of two payments over time.
Existing drivers will now receive an annual bonus of $1,000.
The school district already has existing bonuses for drivers with perfect attendance.
That brings the total of possible yearly incentives to $4,000 a year for existing drivers and $5,200 for new drivers.
"That will allow us the opportunity to show to our existing drivers how much we value them and to do that in a way that is money in their pocket," said Mark Strickland, who is the Chief of Facilities and Operations for Wake County Schools
Strickland said the district has about 100 applicants in the pipeline and hiring recommendations for 17 more drivers. It also expects to hire four to six drivers a week in September and October.
"They've been through the training, they've been recruited and all of that. So we are making some progress at the same time. We still have some attrition every month throughout the year. So we have an intensive recruiting effort and we hope to maintain that and continue that throughout the whole year and really get enough drivers in," he said.
The goal is to alleviate some of the stress on a strained system. The driver shortage has resulted in the late arrivals of nearly 3,000 Wake County students.
District leaders shared that there were about 70 late routes on Friday and 22 of those routes were at Title 1 schools. These are schools with a high percentage of the student population designated as economically disadvantaged.
"Those will be the first schools that get additional resources as we get additional drivers. So throughout September and October, as we gain those additional drivers, they will be applied to those Title 1 schools first," Strickland said.
The late arrivals are still concerning for some Wake County residents. Their worries center on possible learning loss.
"I'm very concerned with the fact that there are students now that are having to be on a bus over an hour during the morning, and they're getting to school in stages, 30 minutes late, 45 minutes late," said Michele Morrow. Some kids are going to have to leave early from their classrooms in order to make this work. I think we need some practical solutions."
The Wake County Chapter President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, Christina Spears, said part of the solution is higher wages
"If we can increase those hourly wages for drivers, that would be, I think, the most important thing that I hear drivers saying is can you just pay us more per hour, you know, we can't compete against GoRaleigh and private companies because of hourly wages," Spears said.
Strickland said the district has increased hourly wages in the last four or five years. Right now it is waiting on the General Assembly to approve the final budget to determine whether a pay-rate increase is possible.
"We're considering every option there is. There have been conversations about what we can do, not only for bus drivers but all employees," said Strickland.
Meanwhile, the district has created a solution to handle the influx of students arriving at school earlier than normal and leaving extremely late. The district established learning labs that will be supervised by certified and noncertified staff members at each school.
The Learning Labs started last Monday.