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Covington Schools Face Bus Driver Shortage

Covington Independent Public Schools reported at its recent board of education meeting that it is short on bus drivers.

"We hired twelve bus drivers and seven of them resigned," said Eric Neff, from the district's human resources office.

The board is being asked to consider a $2 per hour pay increase for drivers to make the district more competitive with its neighbors. 

Some bus drivers don't finish a day before they are wooed away by a neighboring district that pays more, said Neff and Shawn Stein, district director of transportation.

Board member Glenda Huff said that she would oppose a pay increase because there is already an established salary schedule and it wouldn't be fair to other employees to change it for the drivers.

Neff said that most of the drivers are being offered $2 more to leave and they are taking it. He said the district needs 22 drivers, and it now has 17.

"This is a real challenge," said Janice Wilkerson, assistant superintendent. "Right now this is critical, in my opinion. We have got to get the students to school in a safe manner. This is one thing that would make a big difference."

Huff said her argument is important, and there are other ways that children can get to school.

"We believe in fairness," Huff said.

Board attorney Mary Ann Stewart reminded the board that the reason for busing  was originally to balance the schools and prevent segregation. Before that happened children could walk to school, but the schools reflected the ethnicity of their neighborhoods. She said that maybe redistricting could allow the district to use fewer buses.

Finance director Annette Burtschy stepped in and told the board that the district has money that could be used if it comes down to a critical need for bus drivers.

Neff and Stein said the information was to give the board an idea of what was going on, so they could digest the information before they had to vote on it.

There is also a teacher shortage in the district, which Bill Grein, data and district assessment coordinator, said was not only statewide, but also nationwide.

Board member Jerry Avery spoke up and asked how the district can achieve what it needs to if there are no teachers in the classroom. He said that this was also a crisis and needed to be solved so the district does not fail the kids.

Daviare D. Perry officially received his diploma from the Covington Adult School at the meeting, while his family looked on proudly. Perry started off at Sixth District School, and he attended 14 schools in 14 years. He loves sports and played basketball. His career was held up as an example of someone who never quit.

The board approved the bid from Lykins Energy Solutions for diesel fuel. This was explained as being a renewal of a bid made last year.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Map of Covington with shades reflecting bus routes for schools (RCN)