RICHMOND, Va. — With about a month left before most schools in Central Virginia open their doors, staffing shortages remain an issue. Near the top of that list is the need for school bus drivers.
To combat the shortages, most school districts are offering higher pay and incentives, but, even with those incentives, dozens of drivers are still needed.
Right now, Chesterfield County Public Schools said they have about 10 open positions for drivers, and Richmond is also looking for 10 drivers.
Meanwhile, Hanover County tells CBS 6 they have 51 driver openings, and Henrico County is seeing the most need with 91 drivers needed before the start of the school year.
Some school leaders point to pay as the reason some districts are doing better than others when it comes to driver staffing.
"What makes the difference is the salary," explained RPS Director of Transportation Floyd Miles.
Miles said his district's decision to bump pay from $17 per hour to $21 to $23 an hour and offer $3,500 sign-on bonuses is the reason he's seeing half the number of vacancies he saw last school year.
"We took that opportunity to do what we had to do to make sure that our children have drivers behind the steering wheel, and meeting our needs for our students and our teachers, our principals, and most of all administration and school board," Miles noted.
Richmond is leading the way with pay in Central Virginia, while Chesterfield comes in right behind them at $20.21 an hour. Henrico is offering $17.60 per hour, and Hanover’s bus driver pay is the lowest in the area at $15.75 an hour.
"You hear people come here all the time, and they're complaining because they don't make enough with the hours to be able to cover themselves their expenses easily," said William Johnson, a veteran RPS driver.
But he said his district's recent raise has changed his life.
"Before I had to work a lot of overtime," said Johnson. "A lot of hours were put in to make it. The extra money is going to come in handy. Because I'll be able to work less hours. I know Richmond's not going to be happy with me working less hours, but I'm planning on working less hours and making more better money."
At 67 years old, Johnson said he needs to slow down, but he's grateful to still be able to make an impact on young Richmonders' lives. He encourages anyone who wants to help children to consider becoming a bus driver.
"If you come in with the right attitude, and you come in and you care about the kids, generally speaking, you get a pretty good result," Johnson explained. "And it makes it encouraging at the end of the year when the parents appreciate you, they bring you gifts and stuff like that. And you'll be like, okay, it was worth putting up with them for this long," he laughed.
Both Richmond and Chesterfield school leaders note while they are only short 10 drivers right now, that number could change before the start of the school year, as some drivers decide not to return closer to the first day of school.
Hanover is giving new drivers a $1,000 sign-on bonus, and employees who refer a new driver will receive a $2,000 bonus. Bus drivers who join their team between now and September will earn $500 after their first 60 days of employment and $500 at the end of the first semester of next school year.
Henrico is offering new drivers up to $3,000 in bonuses throughout the year, and returning drivers will receive a $500 bonus on their Sept. 30 paycheck. HCPS is also offering up to $1,000 in safe driver incentives and up to $1,000 in attendance incentives to all new drivers.