City of Saratoga Springs School District sets incentives to gain bus drivers

Saratoga Springs School District buses make their way down Geyser Road back to the bus garage in Saratoga Springs on September 23, 2022.

Saratoga Springs School District buses make their way down Geyser Road back to the bus garage in Saratoga Springs on September 23, 2022.

WILTON – In the hopes of hiring more bus drivers, the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education will now award a monetary incentive to any district employee who refers someone to the position.

The district, like many in the Capital Region and state, is facing a shortage of school bus drivers, which is leading to days with reduced route coverage. 

“When you think about what it takes logistically to plan routing close to 6,000 students a day, it’s an incredible effort that our transportation department does and when we’re down staff, obviously, that has an impact on the entire system,” said Superintendent Michael Patton to the board Thursday.

Patton said Friday that the district started this academic year short at least five drivers, causing various routes to not be covered on different days. However, he said within the last two weeks, transportation has improved, with only one morning route lacking coverage. The district has 325 daily routes. 

The board voted unanimously Thursday evening to not only double the monetary incentive it offers for referrals from $250 to $500, but also enable all district employees to participate in the program. Previously, only those working in the transportation department were eligible for the incentive. 

Employees who refer someone will receive $100 on the date the person they referred is hired and then $400 after that driver has been on the job for six months.

“Usually when I meet with new folks, it’s a personal reference that they’ve gotten from a friend or a neighbor or a family member that has encouraged them to apply,” Patton said.

Patton said that the district currently has 72 regular bus drivers and eight substitutes. It needs to hire another eight to 10 drivers, he said.

More: All NewsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa

But that’s not the only change the board made as it seeks ways to address its staffing issue. Another change includes pay increases. Driver trainers, who were previously paid a $2 per hour differential whenever they were training someone, will now be paid a $4 per hour differential, Patton said. 

Drivers who cover activities after school hours, such as sporting events, will now make $4 more per hour on top of their wage, up from $2 per hour. That incentive is also being opened up to substitute bus drivers, Patton said. 

Entry level pay for both regular and subsitute drivers is $21.29 per hour. 

The existing sign-on bonus the district has had in place since 2006 for new bus drivers will continue. Upon completion of their training, the new driver will receive $250 and with $250 disbursed after he or she has met both mandate requirements and a 95% or better attendance rate within his or her first 40 days of employment. 

Patton said the district is also working with the state to expedite training for bus drivers as well; a 40-hour course is required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), he said. 

As the district continues to work through the bus driver staffing issue, officials are considering opening school buildings earlier so that parents who need to drop off their child before driving to work can do so. 

Board of Education President Tony Krackeler, who has two children who attend Saratoga Springs High School, said that they have been impacted by the bus driver shortage. However, he admitted that it is a little easier for parents whose children are in high school because they are better able to find an alternate means of getting home versus younger students. 

School board President Tony Krackeler said he has two kids in the high school and has dealt with some of the staffing issues for his children. He said it is a little easier for those in high school who are better able to manage finding a way home versus a younger student. 

“The focus has been to try to minimize the elementary runs that are affected and when a run unfortunately has to be canceled for a day, I know the priorities are runs that are close to school are some of the first to be considered [to be cut] are runs that serve high school age kids,” he said. “They’re making the attempt to acknowledge that if you live far away from school, your options are fewer and if you have younger kids your options are fewer.” 

Krackeler said the board is asking for “patience and understanding” as the district figures out a solution to the driver shortage. 

More: All NewsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa

Categories: News, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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