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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Hillsborough County needs 150 school bus drivers

TAMPA - Vicki Lawry has a stern warning for school board members in Hillsborough County when it comes to those who transport tens of thousands of students each school day. "Your drivers are taxed. They're tired," the president of the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, which includes bus drivers, told board members recently. "They double trip. They triple trip. They overload," said Lawry, a 31-year veteran of the school district. "They're going to run out of that opportunity to not make a mistake." Lawry and others are concerned because there are too few drivers on the road transporting kids to and from school. The drivers the district has are sometimes doing twice or three times the work.
There are about 150 openings for school bus drivers in Hillsborough. That's a number that far overshadows vacancies in neighboring counties, which have fewer drivers overall than Hillsborough. The Pasco school district has just 22 openings for drivers, while in Pinellas the number is 35. The pay in each of those districts exceeds what Hillsborough offers its beginning drivers — $10.56. Pinellas pays its drivers nearly $2 an hour more per hour, while the Pasco hourly rate is $11.25. "It's a difficult job, and the pay is an issue," said April Griffin, Hillsborough County school board chairwoman. "We could increase the pay, maybe that would help," said board member Carol Kurdell. Both Griffin and Kurdell acknowledge that driving a school bus isn't the easiest profession in the world. "It's a tough job, there is no getting around it," Kurdell said. "It's kind of like being a middle school teacher. You have to really have a knack for that." "I would not want to drive a bus with 50 kids behind me," Griffin said. Griffin wants the district to develop a plan that could pay drivers better, or allocate money so aides could be hired to help keep an eye on students. Kurdell says district officials might need to examine the length of routes, benefits and how they recruit drivers. "We've got to fill that gap," she said. "It's really hard on the drivers who are out there. It's pretty demanding and it makes it really difficult."

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