Cobb school district raises pay for bus drivers amid shortage

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The Cobb County School District on Thursday unanimously approved a $5.25-per-hour raise for bus drivers as it and metro Atlanta districts compete to hire more drivers.

The move will put starting pay for drivers at $25 per hour — which Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said is higher than other metro Atlanta districts. The highest-paid drivers will make $33.32 per hour.

Cobb has more than 200 bus driver openings, Ragsdale said.

“We were not as competitive as we should be with our bus driver pay,” Ragsdale told school board members Thursday.

More than 70% of Cobb students ride school buses, district officials said. In recent years, Cobb has increasingly had bus driver shortages during the year, officials said. They hope the higher salaries will help fill the gap, but Ragsdale acknowledged it won’t be a “silver bullet.”

Cobb officials said the reasons drivers leave vary, but many are overworked.

School districts across the country, and metro Atlanta, are dealing with a shortage of bus drivers. The DeKalb and Fulton school districts started the school year with about 200 openings for bus drivers each. Atlanta Public Schools and Clayton schools were short about 40 drivers each in the first week.

Cobb officials estimate it will cost about $7.6 million to pay for the salary increases. Those will be paid for by unexpected property tax revenue.

Most area school districts pay drivers between $18-$21 an hour. Some are still providing hiring and retention bonuses to drivers.

The district is the state’s second-largest with more than 107,000 students.