DeKalb school bus drivers complain of low pay, overcrowded buses

Sometimes, bus driver Kim Davis says, the school buses in DeKalb County are so full of students that some are forced to stand the whole way to school.

She and other drivers representing those who work for the school district were at the DeKalb County Board of Education Monday evening to show their disdain for a plan that will see some teachers’ pay bumped as much as $20,000, but included no raises for drivers.

“We’re among the lowest-paid in the district, yet we deliver the most precious cargo of all,” one driver said during the meeting.

Comments from drivers after the meeting seemed to point to inefficiencies as their larger concern.

Cathy Douglas, president of the Bus Advisory Council, said she believed the district was down about 70 bus drivers and did not have the buses needed to handle every route.

“Children are late every day because of no drivers,” she said. “On some buses, there are as many as 80 students on 64-passenger buses. If a bus breaks down, we’re in trouble.”

DeKalb County bus drivers are part-time employees who make 24,000 stops daily while transporting about 66,000 students to 135 schools.

With a starting salary of $15.55 an hour, Superintendent Steve Green said the bus drivers are paid more than paraprofessionals who work in classrooms. They received a 2 percent raise in the current budget and are on course to receive another 2 percent next year.

Green said he was caught off guard by the complaints from the drivers during Monday’s public comment session, held before the school board’s monthly business meeting.

“This was the first I’d heard” of driver complaints, Green said Tuesday morning. “I as a superintendent value our bus drivers, who take good care of our students. To react this way was inappropriate.”

He said 118 drivers have been hired since June, though 69 resignations have taken place in the same time period. About 32 back-up drivers are employed to cover shortfalls while recruitment continues, he said.