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‘We’re delivering children, we’re not Amazon’: Henrico school bus drivers address school leaders over concerns

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 3:44 PM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County school bus drivers gathered Thursday night to address the school board about ongoing challenges they face more than 2.5 weeks into the school year.

Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS), like many other school systems, is facing a driver shortage and working to hire 100 new employees to fix the problem.

More than a dozen current drivers gathered Thursday during a school board meeting to share their concerns over wages, workload, and even mental health. Many said, they are worn thin just weeks into the 2021-2022 school year.

“To us it seems like about five years,” said Brenda Riddell, a bus driver of nine years for HCPS.

However, many current drivers said they are doing the best they can.

“We’re delivering children, we’re not delivering Amazon!” Riddell said.

“We’re doubling up runs, tripling up runs,” said another driver. “When you’ve got three to a seat, come on - we need some help.”

On Sept. 1, Henrico Schools announced it would raise the minimum hourly pay to $17.15 an hour to attract new faces behind the wheel. The 15% pay hike was reflected in the first paycheck as of Sept. 15.

However, the move has left current drivers frustrated.

“They are starting at what I’m making right now,” Riddell said. “I got a raise to bring me up to what a new hire is starting at, they raised me to that after 9 years.”

Meanwhile, the increase also applies to bus drivers and other transportation staff already employed by HCPS; drivers who already made $17.15 got a 2.37% pay increase.

Additionally, there are incentive bonuses of $1,000 to $3,000 for new drivers, and up to $2,000 for current drivers.

“Compensate us for everything we do; we’re tenured drivers,” Riddell said during her speech to the school board. “Our main goal is to get your kids to school safely… We’re overwhelmed, we’re tired, we’re fatigued, we’re pushed, we’re stressed, we’re exhausted.”

The group hopes school leaders get a better understanding of what they deal with daily.

Many drivers commenting on the amount of paperwork they must do per trip, including marking down seating charts. They are also expected to learn new routes on the fly.

“The stress is getting so bad that it’s going to start affecting safety,” said another driver. “Something will happen sooner or later if something doesn’t get fixed.”

During the HCPS work session on Thursday, transportation administrators provided an update to the school board on how things looked.

“During the first week of school the transportation team recorded over 500 double runs,” said Lenny Pritchard, HCPS Chief of Operations. “The team has worked to reduce these to 236 double runs, and 15 triple runs. Most of these additional runs are in the Three Chopt and Tuckahoe zones due to higher ridership numbers and higher vacancies.”

While the school system still has 100 vacancies, Pritchard announced there are roughly 50 candidates on the list who are either doing classroom training, road testing or going through background and physical checks.

Meanwhile, the team is looking at whether adjusting bell times would help with the transportation issues. The department is also working to roll out a bus tracker app in the future.

The school system also plans to hold another “Drive the Bus” job fair event on Oct. 16 at Hermitage High School from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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