On Thursday, the BOE's Budget Committee authorized Director of Schools Steve Starnes to include an extra $3 per day for bus drivers and $2 per day for noncertificated employees in the proposed 2018-19 school budget.
Starnes said the overall budget impact hadn't been calculated yet for the $2 per day raise for noncertificated employees (janitors, secretaries, teaching assistants, clerks, etc.).
The $3 per day bus driver pay increase would cost the school Transportation Budget another $58,034 annually.
Why increase bus driver pay?
For years, the Hawkins County School System has struggled to find bus drivers.
As of last week, Hawkins County had 85 bus drivers, and Starnes said they would still like to hire another five or six.
Board Chairman Bob Larkins said, "If it helps in recruitment and retaining drivers, I think we would be in favor of it."
Bus driver pay and benefits have been improving
In recent years, the BOE increased driver pay, reduced the amount of time bus drivers must work to be eligible for health insurance from two years to one, and began offering a health insurance stipend up to $350 to offset costs until drivers become eligible.
In 2016-17, bus drivers received a $5 per day increase, and the following year they got another $2.
The $3 per day increase would set their beginner pay at $60 per day, which would then top out at $79.60 after 20 years.
How hard is it to become a school bus driver?
Prospective bus drivers must pass a Tennessee Department of Transportation physical, pass a drug test, pass a TBI background check, pass four written tests, and be trained for a commercial driver’s license and pass the test.
After all of that, they must complete 40 more hours of in-house training before they can begin working.
"It's a challenge to get somebody to go through all of those steps and make it to the end and be able to be a driver," Starnes told the BOE on Thursday.
Starnes added, “If this is approved, the BOE would have increased bus driver pay $13.33 in the past five years. If you get a minimum wage job for $7.25 and you work eight hours, that's $58, so this is $2 more than having to work eight hours a day."
The BOE plans to hold a budget workshop on May 7 at 6 p.m. with the goal of presenting the proposed 2018-19 school budget to the County Commission's Budget Committee before May 15.