Every school day, Cheryl Fredlund wakes up at 5:15 a.m. to help drive a portion of LISD’s 11,000 bus riders to school.
Fredlund has been driving an LISD school bus mornings and afternoons for 34 years, and she loves her job.
“It’s the kids,” she said before the afternoon school bells rang at Reagan Elementary School on the morning of Jan. 5. “I never tire of driving, but I know the Lord gave me a special love for other people’s kids as well as my own.”
The school district is trying to find and keep more quality bus drivers with a plan approved by the Board of Trustees at its Jan. 4 meeting. The district started the year with only 45 of its 211 bus driver positions vacant and there are still 35 unfilled positions. Plus, the district averages nine absent drivers each school day.
“It’s a difficult job that’s not for everybody,” Fredlund said. “You have to love kids and know how to deal with them effectively. You have to come to work twice in one day. ”
Karie Lynn McSpadden, chief human resource officer for the district, said district maintenance staff and even office secretaries with the required driver licenses have been asked to fill in the bus schedule.
Under the plan adopted earlier this month, the district will raise the starting pay for drivers by a dollar to $16.50 per hour and offer a $500 sign on bonus to new drivers during the manpower crunch.
This will put the district’s pay above recommended local market average, which is $16.20. Bus drivers are guaranteed an average of five hours a day.
Current drivers who refer others to driver positions can now get a $250 bonus. As an incentive, drivers who miss two or fewer days of work through June 8 will see a $250 bonus in June.
The plan adopted to address the shortage is a temporary and unusual fix for the district.
“Rarely do we come before you and recommend mid-year budget increases,” McSpadden told trustees. “The market is changing very rapidly for bus drivers and districts across the state are dealing with the challenge of driver shortages.”
District administrators stressed that the attendance incentive is not part of a long-term policy change.
“Employees should continue to practice good self-care and not attend work while they are sick and could infect other employees or students,” staff stated in a memo to the board of trustees.
The sign on bonus for new drivers will be only offered to those who already have a license to drive a bus. Drivers are paid the bonus after working for 90 days.
In an effort to streamline the hiring process, LISD has submitted an application to become a certified third-party skills testing center through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). This will allow district staff to administer a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) driving exam for new employees and save them from making a trip to a DPS office for the test.
In addition to bonuses, the district has been publicizing driver opportunities in the Leander ISD on social media and at job fairs.
Fredlund said she thinks the plan is "wonderful."
"If you would know what a pressure cooker it is for all of our shop guys who drive a bus almost everyday and all of our office staff, they've actually got two jobs," she said.