Perry schools will offer pay raises to attract and retain bus drivers

Perry Township Schools school bus on July 17, 2023 in the district’s bus yard.
The Perry school district is offering pay increases for new and current bus drivers as it seeks to boost recruitment and retention. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Chalkbeat)

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Perry Township Schools is raising wages for new and current bus drivers as the district continues to face staffing strains, even though it redrew some school enrollment boundaries earlier this year to try to ease the problem.

With a recruitment event coming up Saturday, the Perry school board this week approved a 5% pay increase for all current drivers that will be retroactive to the start of the school year. Additionally, drivers who have been with the district since at least since March will be eligible for a $500 retention bonus if they stay until January 2024. 

Starting pay for new drivers will rise 2.5% to $23.57 per hour.

All other support staff, like cafeteria and custodial workers, will also get the same pay rate increases. Administrators, meanwhile, will receive a 4% base pay increase. 

Like districts across the country, Perry faced struggles throughout the pandemic to keep its bus routes staffed. Ahead of this school year, Perry redrew elementary school enrollment boundaries to shorten and consolidate bus routes and ensure each route had its own regular driver in place, rather than a substitute. All the routes still have a regular driver, said district spokesperson Elizabeth Choi. 

The change has improved the district’s busing issues, Choi said. But buses sometimes still arrive late because of staffing problems. 

For example, on Monday, the first day after the district’s two-week fall break, a large number of drivers were absent, Choi said. In cases like that, the district will first turn to substitute drivers to fill the routes, then to licensed office staff and mechanics.

If there’s still a need, the district sends drivers back to cover additional routes — though this can mean some students arrive well after the school day has begun. 

“Lack of drivers has a domino effect on the rest of the school day for our students,” said Board President Emily Hartman in a district press release, calling the pay increases a “necessary decision.”

Since January, 25 bus drivers have left the district, including 10 who retired, said Choi. The district has an 80% driver retention rate, she said. 

The district is hosting a recruitment event on Saturday that will allow would-be drivers to test drive a bus, talk to current drivers, and ask questions. The event will take place at Jeremiah Gray Elementary from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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