By Kathy Knotts
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” announced Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman earlier this week, referring to a proposal approved by the Board of Education Monday evening for raising the wages for school bus drivers and attendants. School bus drivers are employed by independent companies, under a contract with Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
AACPS Superintendent George Arlotto put forth the plan requesting more than $7.4 million in a recurring supplemental operating budget from the county for funds sufficient to provide transportation contractors with a $5 per wage increase, subject to contract modifications.
Pittman said he was “very pleased to see we now have a proposal to work from.”
The plan also includes an additional $2 million in American Rescue Plan funding to provide signing and retention bonuses for drivers. The plan to use federal funds was developed in consultation with the Anne Arundel County Workforce Development Corp.
The proposal comes on the heels of a bus strike by drivers for the Annapolis Bus Company. Several school bus drivers in Calvert County called out sick early this week to call attention to similar issues within their district. This compounds bus driver shortages that have already caused problems in both counties.
Drivers earn between $16 to $18 an hour with no benefits, as they typically do not work more than a few hours each day. Pittman stated his office is working to make sure drivers “get paid a livable wage, most make about $25,000 a year, we have to make these jobs more appealing to potential applicants.”
“County Executive Pittman has been clear that the county stands ready to assist our school system in solving this issue, which has been decades in the making,” Board of Education President Melissa Ellis said. “I take him at his word and believe he will do just that. I am hoping this funding will be approved as soon as possible so that we can get it to our current and future bus drivers and attendants and, in turn, provide our students and families the transportation services they need.”
For Anne Arundel County, the county council will have to approve the full pay raise proposal at its next meeting before sending it back to the Board of Education in order to negotiate contracts with bus companies, but ARP funds could be available in the next month or two.
“I’m glad everybody is finally moving in the same direction on this,” said Pittman. “I have spoken to members of the county council and they recognize we needed to do something and that requires incentivizing the work.”
Calvert County Board of Education meets Oct. 14 at 3:30pm; Calvert County Board of Commissioners meets on Oct. 19 at 10am. Anne Arundel County Council meets Oct. 18 at 6pm; Anne Arundel Board of Education meets Oct. 20 at 6pm.