RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wake County School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Randy Bridges is speaking exclusively with ABC11 days before the start of the upcoming school year and says one of the big short-term challenges is transportation.
Right now, there are just enough bus drivers for all the routes. There are 560 drivers and 560 routes, making for very little wiggle room if someone calls out sick.
Bridges said recruitment efforts are still underway.
"Through a lot of effort for a lot of people, we've got some bus drivers in the pipeline that probably at least eight to 10 of them may come on line the second week of September, and I know we've just started a new class (of) 20 or 25 candidates, and that takes about four weeks to certify drivers so we're moving through that process. But I think our recruitment efforts in that arena have been good," he said.
Because of the bus driver shortage, Bridges said some students will arrive late after the first bell and then might be late after the final bell.
He said on a positive note, about 98 percent of teacher positions are filled and that's about 107 fewer vacancies from this time last year.
Dr. Robert Taylor will soon be taking over the reins and leading North Carolina's largest school district. He earned his doctorate from Fayetteville State University and previously spent two years working as a Deputy State Superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Taylor will officially start on October 1.
Bridges said the two have already had a number of conversations, and Taylor will start spending some time next month in Wake meeting with staff.
"We're starting a new era," said Bridges. "He's a great person and an outstanding educator, so Wake County is fortunate to have him."
Taylor will be coming in as the district begins implementing the framework for its new 5-year Strategic Plan. Priorities include eliminating barriers to opportunities and moving students toward a more equitable future.
"The pillars that hold that up are high-quality instruction in every classroom, equity, high-quality staff, and family and community engagement," said Bridges.
He said academically, Wake is in good shape and there's always a desire to improve on that.
"Test results and those sorts of things are trending upward for all of our students. That's a very positive thing," said Bridges.
School security is also a big concern, especially after a string of scares and code-red school lockdowns last year. ABC11 asked if the district would consider increasing penalties to deter kids from making false claims.
"A lot of things we can't talk about, but we take all issues related to student safety seriously. So we don't want to have lockdowns. We don't want to have code reds and code yellows, but if it warrants that to make sure that our kids and our employees are safe, then that's what we'll do," said Bridges.
Another goal is to provide students with help with their mental health. The district has money in the budget to retain social workers, counselors, and school psychologists.
"Those support pieces are in our schools. The number depends on the number of kids in the school," said Bridges. "From a resource perspective, Wake County is a lot more fortunate than some other counties that I've worked in."