Local Update: Bradley bus driver shortage, new school start schedule update

Staff Photo / School buses operated by Cleveland City Schools pick up students from Cleveland Middle School in 2012. The Cleveland City School Board has adopted a new schedule for the 2023-24 school year to answer an ongoing bus driver shortage and boosted bus driver pay to $22 per hour.
Staff Photo / School buses operated by Cleveland City Schools pick up students from Cleveland Middle School in 2012. The Cleveland City School Board has adopted a new schedule for the 2023-24 school year to answer an ongoing bus driver shortage and boosted bus driver pay to $22 per hour.


Then: A school bus driver shortage in March prompted the public city school system in Cleveland to adopt new, staggered school start times after conducting a parent and employee survey on a preferred schedule for the new school year.

There are about 5,800 students in the city school system, and around 1,600 at the time were bus riders on one of the system's fleet of 26 buses. Parents were offered several start time options for elementary, middle and high school students based on recommendations from a transportation study and school system leadership.

A new requirement that went into effect last year in Tennessee for school bus drivers to have a commercial driver's license to operate a school bus limited the number of available drivers, producing a shortage, officials said near the end of the previous academic year.

In April, city school board members approved new school start times and hiked bus driver pay in response to the ongoing driver shortage as part of its almost $60 million 2023-24 budget. Board members unanimously approved the schedule preferred in a survey by most school families, students and employees, which changed school start times. The new schedule went into effect when students returned for fall classes in August.

At the end of the previous school year, the city's seven elementary schools' school day started at 8:15 a.m. and ended at 3:15 p.m., and Cleveland Middle School and Cleveland High School started at 7:45 a.m. and ended at 2:45 p.m. The new schedule shifted the start time at Cleveland Middle and High schools to 7:30 a.m. and the end of the school day to 2:30 p.m. while elementary school students attend from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m.

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The board voted to sweeten the pot for bus drivers who were being paid "in that $18 range," Russell Dyer, schools director, said in April in a statement. After the board approved the hike, bus drivers' hourly rate was increased to $22 in hopes of keeping the school system competitive with rates paid in other systems.

Now: With the new $22 pay rate, school system spokesperson Caroline Corrigan said the transportation department's supply of bus drivers surged for the fall. Cleveland schools' driver numbers jumped from 21 in May to 27 at the start of the school year with two more in training, she said.

"This marks about a 30% rise in coverage, attributed to the recent pay raise initiative and schedule change," Corrigan said via email. "In April, the Cleveland City Board of Education voted to increase bus driver pay to $22 an hour, a decision that has evidently bolstered our recruitment efforts.

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Now, all routes are covered, she said.

The new school start schedule city school board members approved in April went into effect in August, according to Corrigan. That decision was based on a survey of a total of 618 employees and 2,091 parents or guardians who provided feedback showing 56% of employees and 48% of parents/guardians preferred the option chosen.

"Our ongoing objective is to sustain this positive momentum by actively recruiting additional bus drivers to further enhance our transportation services," Corrigan said.

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.

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