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Albuquerque Public Schools bus drivers will soon be receiving a pay increase as the district attempts to keep and attract drivers amid a shortage.
The wage increases, which were approved by the Board of Education on Wednesday, will raise pay for bus drivers by $1 an hour, bringing the minimum wage to $18. Hiring bonuses for new bus drivers and hiring referral bonuses were also approved at the meeting.
With the incentives, new bus drivers will receive $1,000 paid out over the course of a year and current bus drivers will receive $500 for each referral hired.
The wage increase and hiring incentive come as the school district faces mass staffing shortages across all jobs, with bus drivers being especially in demand.
According to an online APS job posting list, the district has 730 active job postings.
Transportation Executive Director Royce Binns told the board Wednesday that the district is currently short 70 drivers, not including any backup drivers.
This means thousands of students are not being transported to school as they would be in normal years, Binns said.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said roughly 5,600 students are unable to take a bus to school due to routes being cut, with the West Side being most affected.
During public comment, bus driver Reuben Apodaca said bus drivers, dispatch workers, training staff and shop technicians are all having to cover bus routes on a near daily basis.
“When they signed on to be in these staff positions, they understood that they would probably be called up, but it’s happening pretty much on a daily basis and, of course, that leaves us, the bus drivers, without anyone back at the yard to support us because they’re all out driving,” he said.
Armenta said that about 40% of routes are either doubled or tripled, resulting in longer bus ride times for students.
“It’s a given that it’s taking longer to get to school right now,” she said.
Binns said the district has dealt with shortages for a long time, but the current level of shortages could be consequential in the coming winter months when drivers are more likely to call out since there won’t be any drivers available to cover for them.
Binns said the pay raise and stipend are an attempt to attract and retain more drivers during a time when drivers can earn more by working for private companies or the city government.
“At this current time, we are not seeing anybody applying or even having an interest in (applying),” he said. “So, we’re hoping that the increase and (the stipends) will … get some motivation for our department.”
Binns said the increase is just the first step and that hourly wages for bus drivers should be increased to $20 to remain competitive.