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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Education

Carroll board approves bonuses for bus drivers, 2022-23 school calendar

The Carroll County Board of Education unanimously approved a bonus for contracted bus drivers and attendants.

Drivers will be given $1,000 and bus attendants $500 for “exceptional service during school reopening in the initial pandemic year, summer learning recovery” and continuing to “provide service this school year for the standard day and the extended learning opportunity,” according to a document that explains the bonuses from the board’s meeting Wednesday.

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The document also states other school jurisdictions are giving out bonuses and other added compensation this year. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball committed $2 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to retention bonuses for existing bus drivers and attendants, along with signing bonuses to attract new hires.

Baltimore County government officials said they would cover the cost of preemployment background checks, fingerprinting, physical exams, mandatory drug testing and, in some cases, sleep apnea tests for commercial drivers license holders. The county’s superintendent, Darryl Williams, said drivers would be offered incentives that include $50 monthly rewards for on-time attendance, $250 sign-on bonuses, $250 employee referral incentives and $1,000 retention bonuses paid in December and June. The Baltimore County school system also will offer more flexible time off and a $2 per hour shift differential for drivers who take on additional routes through the remainder of the school year.

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During the Carroll County school board meeting Wednesday, schools Chief Operating Officer Jon O’Neal said Carroll has not experienced the work stoppages other counties have faced because of driver shortages. He said the bonuses recognize the services drivers have provided during the pandemic.

To cover the cost, O’Neal told the board it would have to look at year-end transfers or the fund balance to cover the $425,000 addition to the fiscal 2022 budget.

O’Neal pointed out that there are five to 10 school bus routes a day that drivers cover by doubling up runs. He said the silver lining is that the county is still doing better than others.

“We’re struggling on a daily and weekly basis, but in some counties, short of work stoppages, they’re having buses not run every day,” O’Neal said. “That’s never been part of our culture here in Carroll County.”

At the last board meeting, board members agreed to prioritize revisions to the transportation reimbursement formula for the fiscal 2023 budget to give drivers more money. The revisions would double the usual increase in the transportation budget. The proposed revisions would add $1.5 million to the fiscal 2023 budget.

Earlier in the meeting, during public comment, Dianne Grote, president of the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association, reminded the board of the recommended funding formula adjustments, and hoped the board will accept all of them. The adjustments include an increase of contract guaranteed minimums; converting all new buses from 2021-2022 to the new per vehicle allotment (PVA) formula; including a 10-year engine and emissions warranty in PVA; reimbursing tax, tags and title costs at time of vehicle purchase; and establishing a 3% minimum increase to annual salary.

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School board president Marsha Herbert acknowledged the work bus drivers put in during the pandemic and the importance of keeping them on board. She said she hopes they can work out all drivers’ requests because she knows drivers can be paid more in other counties and make more as garbage truck drivers.

Along with approving the bonuses, the board also approved the school calendar in a 4-1 vote.

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The 2022-23 calendar includes a Sept. 6 start date for classes and a June 15 end date. Winter break will be from Dec. 26 to 30, and spring break is from April 6 to 11. Not included are days off for the Jewish holidays Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, the focus of the calendar conversation during the September board meeting.

Board member Patricia Dorsey said it “seemed like we heard a number of request that we honor Jewish holidays.” She added later she’s concerned about not honoring those dates and wanting to show respect to those who observe.

Board member Tara Battaglia said she understands that feedback, but the law states schools cannot close for religious purposes. She said more people celebrate Buddhist holidays, which do not receive days off, nor do Ash Wednesday or Halloween. Battaglia also added no tests or field trips should happen during Jewish holidays.

All but Dorsey voted to approve the calendar, and Devanshi Mistry, whose vote does not count as a student member, abstained.

Baltimore Sun reporter Lillian Reed contributed to this article.


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