Henry County school bus drivers, substitute teachers getting pay raise

Henry County Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis pushed through raises for bus drivers, substitute teachers on Monday.

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Henry County Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis pushed through raises for bus drivers, substitute teachers on Monday.

Henry County Schools is giving its bus drivers and substitute teachers a pay raise to make sure they are not lured away by other districts offering high salaries.

The Henry County Board of Education this week agreed to pay newly hired bus drivers a minimum of $17.60 an hour, an increase of $2 over past starting salaries. Bus monitors will also see their starting pay increase to $14.40 an hour.

In addition, substitute teachers also are getting a pay bump to $110 a day, the board decided. The increases are retroactive to the beginning of the school year earlier this month.

“This is going to mean a lot for our employees,” board member Annette Edwards said. “This also shows them that we do treasure them.”

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The move reflects efforts districts are undertaking to retain and recruit staff, especially as the nation — including Henry County — faces a critical shortage of bus drivers. Across metro Atlanta and the country, school systems are trying to attract bus drivers by hiking salaries, offering better health care coverage and promising signing bonuses from $1,000 to $1,200 locally to as much as $4,000 in a school system in Montana.

And they are doing so as potential workers increasingly are staying on the sidelines because of fears of surging school COVID-19 infections. After spending most of last year learning remotely, Georgia students went back to class in full force earlier this month, only to have individual classes, whole grade levels and some schools shutdown and return to virtual instruction because of massive positive cases.

The Henry board agreed to also give existing bus drivers a $2 an hour pay increase as well as a bonus of up to $1,000. Drivers also will get $2 more an hour for field trips, immediate benefits for new drivers, paid training and work attire paid for by the district. Henry staff can also earn $250 if a driver they recommend is hired.

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“I’m excited for what this is going to do for those wonderful employees,” board member Sophe Pope said.

The board amended its budget for fiscal 2022, increasing it by $2 million to $417.4 million. The district said the extra funds will come from federal COVID-19 relief dollars and state money for enrollment.

Henry Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis said the additional spending is part of measures the district is taking to keep apace of changes brought on by the pandemic. The school system also is asking parents to drive their children to school if possible and will accept morning drop offs as early as 7 a.m. at elementary schools, 7:30 a.m. at middle schools and 7:15 a.m. at high schools.

“We are doing absolutely everything in our power to keep schools open for young people,” Davis said. “The rapid increase of COVID-19 in our community cannot be ignored.”