Seminole County Schools, bus drivers union negotiate pay hike as dozens of drivers are needed

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — The union representing Seminole County school bus drivers says it’s currently in contract negotiations with the school district, pushing for wage increases.

The school district says it currently has 51 open positions for bus drivers.

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READ: Osceola County schools seeking solutions to bus driver shortage

Carlos Betancourt is a current Seminole County Public Schools bus driver and has been for the last five years. He says he stays for the kids, but at $22,000 a year, the pay just isn’t enough

“The problem is we don’t have enough people,” Betancourt said. “We can’t recruit people at this wage level. $14.53 is not good enough to bring people in.”

Betancourt court says he welcomes the wage increase negotiations, but says the process has been long and drawn-out.

“We keep waiting,” Betancourt said. “In the meantime, our drivers keep dropping, going somewhere else, and at the end of the day, our students are the ones suffering.”

According to the school district, staff members are picking up routes to fill some of the gaps in their schedule, while drivers are being asked to take extra measures like staying like to finish routes.

READ: Superintendent gets bus driver’s license to help during driver shortage

“At one point, I don’t know what is going to happen, but I’m guessing it is going to crumble,” Betancourt said.

District Spokesperson Michael Lawrence said he couldn’t comment on the contract negotiations, but explained that the problem they face is the competition for hiring drivers from large companies like Amazon.

“No school district can compete with what is being offered in the private sector right now,” Lawrence said.

As Ch. 9 news reported a week ago, it’s a problem that’s been years in the making.

According to state budget records, Florida paid $156 per student for transportation in 2011. In 2020, that figure was the same, even as costs for everything from fuel to the buses themselves increased.

READ: Orange County school buses overcrowded due to driver shortage, leaving students to sit on the floor

Bus drivers are required to have a Commercial Drivers License, which puts schools in direct competition with private businesses that can and typically do pay more for drivers with a CDL, leaving school districts in Florida unable to match pay.

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