Carmel Clay school board holds off on signing bonus for bus drivers

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By Ann Marie Shambaugh

A plan to offer a $2,500 signing bonus to new bus drivers is on hold after several members of the Carmel Clay Schools Board of Trustees voiced various concerns about the proposal.

Some said they believed the dollar amount was too high or three month payout was too soon, while others questioned if it would cause tension with the district’s existing bus drivers or lure others away from nearby school districts.

Bob Dyer, vice president of the Carmel Clay Schools Bus Drivers Association, expressed similar concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Paying it out in three months, we’d be like the Quicken Loans. It’s kind of silly, paying it out that fast,” Dyer said. “If a bonus is necessary, $500 is a number we think is somewhat more appropriate in this type of situation.”

Associate Supt. for Business Affairs Roger McMichael proposed delaying the bonus payment until September to encourage bus drivers to commit to a new school year. He also suggested a plan to give $2,500 only to experienced drivers and $1,000 to those who would need training, which takes three to four weeks and costs $1,200 to $1,500 per driver. He also recommended capping the total bonus payout at $35,000.

Trustees made motions that ranged from setting the bonus at $1,500 to $2,500 and adding a $500 referral bonus for current drivers, but in the end they decided more research was needed.

No one disputes that the district is short on drivers. McMichael said on Jan. 21 nearly 300 students were late for school because a driver wasn’t available to pick them up. At times four of the district’s five mechanics have picked up bus routes, as well as additional office staff members, but it still isn’t enough, and it’s not sustainable, he said.

CCS Supt. Nicholas Wahl said the district has lost 25 drivers since May, which is not an unusual amount of turnover in that time. Three new drivers are in training, but the district would ideally like to hire about a dozen more, officials said.

This is not the first time CCS has experienced a bus driver shortage. Wahl said it also happened in the mid-2000s before the economy collapsed and left many people looking for work.

“A good economic indicator is when you have a hard time getting substitute teachers and bus drivers,” Wahl said.

The school board is expected to revisit the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 8.

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