Incentives considered to retain bus drivers

Richmond County school officials are considering incentives to curb the high turnover of transportation employees.

"We want to get safe drivers, we want to get dependable drivers, but we need a program. We need some kind of incentive program," L.A. Green, a retiring bus driver, said during a Wednesday meeting of the school system's transportation council.

Mr. Green, a member of the council, presented initiatives he said he hopes will encourage employees to stay on the job, including offering $50 to anyone who has perfect attendance for the year.

According to Michael Shinn, the director of transportation, a preliminary review of records found that only four employees had perfect attendance this year. The department has about 200 bus drivers, in addition to other employees.

Low pay and little appreciation have created a high turnover of employees in the department, Mr. Green said. That's why drivers need to be acknowledged when they complete a school year without having an accident, there should be an appreciation banquet at a facility other than a greasy garage and paid training for those who want to become drivers.

As it is, people aren't paid to undergo training, Mr. Shinn said. State law prohibits him from hiring drivers without a commercial driver's license and he can't pay someone who isn't an employee.

"It's a real dilemma for us. It's a real problem," he said.

Complicating matters, drivers who get their CDL from the school system often leave to obtain a higher paying job elsewhere, he said.

Incentives are welcome, but won't solve the problem with turnover, said Sallie Thomas, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 239. The department's leadership causes much of the turnover, she said.

Even with the city, where bus drivers are paid more because they work year-round, turnover is high, said Heyward Johnson, director of Augusta Public Transit. The pool of applicants has dwindled in recent years, and there are currently five vacancies.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.