Virginia Beach school bus driver: “We’re exhausted and our morale is low”

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A group of public school bus drivers made sure their voices were heard in front of the entire school board at Tuesday night's meeting.

After a discussion about the budget development process, several drivers spoke to push for a raise, and gave a number of reasons as to why.

"This is a functioning, dysfunctional system," says Kori Nazario, a current school bus driver.

Drivers said they are often doubling up and doing second runs on a regular basis due to a critical shortage of drivers, yet they are not seeing it pay off in their checks.

A Virginia Beach parent also spoke at the meeting. He says his son walks to school to avoid getting to school late.

"Just a couple of days ago, 90 drivers were out," says Nazario.

"We're exhausted and our morale is low," says Terri White, another current school bus driver.

According to Virginia Beach Public Schools, a starting driver makes $13.68 per hour.

A driver who asked News 3 to protect her identity provided us with a time and mileage sheet. She says she gets paid for six hours, but the sheet shows she was on the bus for seven.

Others argue that their experience does not help their pay check as much as it should.

"I make $14.30 an hour, that means my ten years of experience is worth only 77 cents per hour," says Donna Larson, also a current driver.

Drivers say the pay is not an incentive to bring in the new drivers they need. Their biggest concern is that it is impacting the students.

"We're failing, we don't have enough drivers to do it properly," says White.

In an e-mail to News 3, a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach Public Schools, Lauren Nolasco, says the majority of their full-time positions are filled, but they are always seeking substitute drivers to fill in when they have absences or people call out sick.

"On any given day, there are bound to be people out sick and on leave," she says.

They currently have 620 drivers with assigned runs.

"I can share that both the School Board and Superintendent value the service of our drivers and transportation staff," says Nolasco. "Compensation is always a priority for the school division as work begins in the budget development process, and staff will continue to work to build a competitive compensation package for our drivers."

Here's how other school districts in Hampton Roads compare:

Chesapeake: Average salary of $11,448-$13,608

Hampton: Hourly rate of $12.10-19.25

Newport News: Hourly rate of $13.86-15.02

Norfolk: Average salary of $15,775

Portsmouth: Hourly rate of $12.17-18.19 (paid 6.5 hours a day)

Suffolk: Average salary of $12,787-$18,000