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CMS transportation director helping bus drivers as they take on extra routes amid staff absences

Roughly 800 drivers are doubling, tripling, and combining routes.
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 6:11 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Driving thousands of students to and from school each day is no easy task, especially when more than 100 drivers are absent.

It’s a reality many school districts, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, are facing due to staff shortages and absences due to COVID-19 and other reasons.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Earnest Winston said the average number of driver absences is between 120-145 people.

On Wednesday, Adam Johnson, the executive director of transportation for CMS said 133 drivers were absent.

“Today for example we’d be somewhere around 800 available drivers to cover 936 buses,” Johnson said. “Doing the math that’s why we have buses that are splitting up runs, buses that are going back and doing doubles, sometimes triples. We have every available staff member that can drive to fill in, they’re doing so.”

Johnson says they have 915 drivers on staff with about 20 vacancies.

Ricardo Nicholas has been driving for the district for eight years. Despite the pandemic, staff shortages, and absences, he’s still doing his job with a smile.

“It’s been rough, but we’ve been maintaining, hanging in there, doing what we got to do because these kids got to get to school,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas is now driving extra routes in the morning and afternoon but says he’s persevering and knows this won’t last forever.

Last August, Johnson was driving buses to help with staffing shortages during the start of the school year.

“I’m happy to do it. It’s a lot to do this on top of regular work but I just want the drivers to know, what I’m asking them to do I’m out there with him,” Johnson said.

With ongoing absences, he says he didn’t hesitate to get on board to help his staff and get more kids to and from school in a timely manner.

“I’m just happy to do what I can to help out, if I can get 100 kids to school on time in the morning, that’s 100 fewer calls, 100 fewer kids that are waiting beside the road to get to school, and likewise in the afternoon. It’s worthwhile,” Johnson said.

Johnson says the average turnaround time from the application process to when drivers begin hitting the road is roughly 52 days. This extensive training is needed and which is why they can’t hire anyone to start driving immediately.

“It’s not something that someone can step into readily and be able to drive so we do rely heavily on recruiting it’s just a little bit of a time-consuming effort to get people properly trained, background check, all of the proper testing and credentials before they can transport kids,” Johnson said.

Other drivers told WBTV off camera they’re doing the best they can and they’re asking for patience during this time as they’re doubling and tripling their routes to get kids to and from school.

As he buckles up and hits the road each day, Nicholas says he’ll keep smiling and encouraging more people to apply for bus driver positions.

“Just hang in there with it, it may be a little tough starting off with it and you may get a little frustrated but overall good things come to those who wait,” Nicholas said.

Johnson says the transportation department has bus driver training classes happening this month with about 24 trainees and they expect 18 more people to start training in February.

In October, the Board of Education voted to increase the starting pay to $17.75 an hour.

If you are interested in applying to be a bus driver, visit CMS’ website.

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