Bus drivers asked to substitute teach in metro Atlanta school system

Fayette County school bus drivers may become substitute teachers in the south metro Atlanta district.

Combined ShapeCaption
Fayette County school bus drivers may become substitute teachers in the south metro Atlanta district.

Fayette County Schools has come up with a novel solution to its substitute teacher shortage problem: bus drivers.

Despite hiring more than 120 substitutes since the school year began, the south metro Atlanta school system of just over 19,900 students said it still doesn’t have enough of the workers to cover all classrooms.

So Fayette has begun information sessions to persuade interested school bus drivers to also take on substitute teaching duties, Fayette Schools Human Resources Director Erin Roberson said. She got the idea after hearing a bus driver was also willing to be a substitute teacher.

“I started thinking about that and I wondered if there were other bus drivers who might be willing to help fill in classrooms as well,” she said in a video posted to the district’s YouTube channel.

The move comes as school systems across metro Atlanta and the nation struggle to fill ongoing vacancies caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a highly competitive job market.

In metro Atlanta districts have offered new bus drivers as much as $1,000 in signing bonuses and up to $25 an hour. Pay for substitute teachers has been bumped up as much as $20 a day along with incentives, such as the $500 Gwinnett offered subs last year. Some, such as Fulton County Schools, are using bus drivers in cafeterias and the maintenance department, but not in the classroom.

Nationally, efforts to address staffing issues have include New Mexico calling on the National Guard to be substitutes while Michigan passed a law last year allowing bus drivers and cafeteria workers to work in classrooms. In other areas such as Manassas, Va., teachers are filling in for bus drivers.

“That really tells you what an issue it is,” said Joyce Many, a senior associate dean at Georgia State University. “We are seeing more requests that our candidates who are student teaching convert to long-term subs in classrooms. The districts just don’t have the resources there to have someone to fill a class.”

Fayette raised the pay for substitutes last year. The district pays fill-in teachers $95 to $115 a day depending on education while bus drivers can earn $81 daily.

Fayette bus driver Sue Holliday said it’s all about helping each other.

“We’ve got as much of a shortage as you do, and if there is something we can do to give back and help these kids, that’s why I’m here,” Holliday said in the school’s YouTube video.

To become a substitute, an applicant must be 21 or older and have at least a high school diploma. References also are required.

A school bus driver in Fayette must be at least 21, have a valid driver’s license, learn CPR and first aid, and pass a physical exam. Drivers can also receive free training toward a commercial driver’s license.

Drivers who become substitutes will cover classes between their morning and afternoon routes, but will not be in the building the entire day like their fulltime counterparts. Their effort, however, will be enough to give teachers time for planning periods, Roberson said.

Fayette parent Rick Bryant supports the plan. He said the bus drivers have already been vetted and passed background checks so it makes sense to tap an available resource.

“I think it’s a great idea,” the father of two said. “It shows some ingenuity. And the people who thought of that should be commended.”

The new opportunity is a dream come true for bus driver Evie Campbell.

“I’ve always wanted to be a substitute teacher or a teacher, so this is a great way to help in the community,” Campbell said. “This is a great thing for us to do to help somebody out.”