Guilford County Schools (GCS) currently has 55 bus driver vacancies. 

Officials say the recent approval of increased pay for classified staff has been helpful with retention and employee satisfaction, but it’s still not enough. 

At a meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Whitney Oakley said changes need to be made at the state level to improve conditions for bus drivers.

“I just think about what they're doing and what's behind them and how they can go work for Publix, make more money, and not be responsible for 65 kids in the mirror, you know," Oakley said. "So I just think we have to think about how competitive we are. And that's not just a GCS advocacy, that's a state advocacy.”

In addition to staffing, the district also faces challenges in transportation efficiency. 

North Carolina gives school districts efficiency ratings based on how they use their funds and buses. The average for the state is about 90%, which is 10% higher than the rating for GCS.

GCS Executive Director of Transportation Faye Crowder-Phillips says that percentage matters because it determines how much funding districts receive from the state. 

“We are only receiving 80% of what is allotted for us for funding, which means we have to take that 80% of funding and still provide the very same service to our students," she said. 

She says another issue is that the state’s reimbursement rate is based on busing students within a neighborhood school boundary, which isn’t always the case in Guilford County. 

“We transport children across this district, instead of keeping them in neighborhoods," Crowder-Phillips said. "And so that's where we run into problems.”

District officials say the board of education will take a deeper dive into transportation issues at their retreat in February.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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