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Over 100 Cumberland County, NC, school buses off the roads as drivers demand higher pay

By Gilbert Baez

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    FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina (WRAL) — Some Cumberland County parents had to find alternate plans to get their children to school and home again on Tuesday after dozens of bus drivers called out sick during a protest to demand more pay.

By 8 a.m., the district announced at least four routes were without drivers. Students who can’t make it to school can learn online and won’t be counted absent.

More than a third of the 47,000 Cumberland County Schools students depend on bus service to get to school, and some families say their children will have to miss school without transportation.

School districts across the state are dealing with a shortage of bus drivers. Overwhelmed by running multiple routes, at least one-third of Wake County drivers were absent recently to push for better pay and working conditions.

Cumberland County Schools officials met with more than 100 school bus drivers last week to hear their demands and offer solutions.

The starting pay for drivers in the district is $12.21 an hour. Transportation Director Kristi Harden said that, while drivers haven’t said they are demanding more money, that’s been a consistent theme among drivers statewide.

Cumberland County Schools officials met with more than 100 school bus drivers last week to hear their demands and offer solutions.

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The starting pay for drivers in the district is $12.21 an hour. Transportation Director Kristi Harden said that, while drivers haven’t said they are demanding more money, that’s been a consistent theme among drivers statewide.

“The salaries are really driven by the state, so, at this time, we did not talk about specifically what salaries would look like moving forward,” Harden said.

Bus drivers recently received a $1,000 bonus from the district, as did all other employees.

Drivers who spoke with WRAL News said low pay isn’t the only problem, noting that they feel the district isn’t doing enough to address the impact a shortage of drivers has had on them.

Cumberland County Schools has 46 vacant bus driver positions.

“The salaries are really driven by the state, so, at this time, we did not talk about specifically what salaries would look like moving forward,” Harden said.

Bus drivers recently received a $1,000 bonus from the district, as did all other employees.

Drivers who spoke with WRAL News said low pay isn’t the only problem, noting that they feel the district isn’t doing enough to address the impact a shortage of drivers has had on them.

Cumberland County Schools has 46 vacant bus driver positions.

Starting pay is $15 per hour in the Wake County Public School System, but the state’s largest school district still has 220 driver vacancies.

Durham Public Schools needs another 70 drivers, even though the district pays one of the highest hourly wages in the region at $17 per hour.

Cumberland County Schools officials said a baseline for driver salaries are determined by the state, and giving raises can be complicated.

“I know there were some possibilities in the upcoming budget that will come up for approval where there could be as much as a 3 percent increase in pay for classified employees, which would include our bus drivers,” district spokesman Lindsay Whitley said.

Whitley said officials don’t know how many drivers might not show up for work on Tuesday, and they can’t really take action until then.

“We understand that parents need to know these things in advance, which is why, as soon as we found out about this situation, we were in a hurry to get a message out to families,” he said.

Parents can download the Here Comes the Bus app to track their child’s route, officials said.

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