ROGERSVILLE — Two of the biggest impediments to hiring new school bus drivers in Hawkins County has been stagnant pay, and no health insurance benefits for the first two years.
During it’s Thursday evening meeting, however, the Hawkins County Board of Education dealt with both of those issues.
For nearly two decades Hawkins County school bus drivers have been paid $46 per day on a 185-day annual schedule.
On Thursday, however, the BOE approved a bus driver salary scale that starts drivers out at $47.34 per day and tops out at $57.78 per day after 20 years. Substitute drivers will still make $46 per day.
A bus driver is considered a part-time employee who works 30 hours or less per week, and as such, it takes two years for new hires to be eligible for the state health insurance plan.
Transportation Director Sarah Floyd has told the BOE on multiple occasions that the lack of health insurance for two years discourages many of her potential new bus drivers from taking the job.
On Thursday, Assistant Director of Schools Steve Starnes presented the BOE with several health insurance options to offer part-timers in their first two years before the state plan kicks in.
Aside from bus drivers, the biggest group of employees affected by the plan is cafeteria workers, who also work less than 30 hours.
“Prior to this there hasn’t been an option for them to get health insurance in their first two years of employment,” Starnes told the Times-News Monday. “Working with our insurance broker (Symetra) we were able to solicit some proposals, and we were able to present the board with three options in the standard plan, and two options in the limited plan. The board chose one of each, so now these employees will be able to choose either a standard plan, or a limited plan, depending on how much they want to spend each month.”
The standard plan approved by the board has a monthly price tag to employees of between $119.99 per month for singles and $348.17 per month for employee plus family, with those premiums only being paid 10 months out of the year.
The limited plan is between $73.77 for singles and $211.02 for families.
Although the monthly premiums are comparable to the state plans that employees are offered after two years on the job, the benefits for the first two years aren’t as good because the pool is much smaller, Starnes said.
Approval of the insurance plan also prepares Hawkins County Schools to be in compliance when the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect.
“This accomplishes two things,” Starnes said. “First of all, we were trying to make the salary and benefit package more attractive for recruiting bus drivers. That’s been one of the chief complaints. When we try to recruit new (bus drivers) they always ask if insurance was available. When it wasn’t going to be available for two years, that pointed some of them to not becoming a driver.”
Starnes added, “We are also working toward complying with the Affordable Care Act, making an option available for all employees.”
There is no additional cost to the school system for these new health insurance plans, which are paid fully by the employees.
The school system pays 76 percent of the state health insurance plan for part-timers after two years, but the premium paid by the employee actually works out close to the same. The state plan has much better benefits, Starnes said.