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Guilford County Schools hopes to create permanent bus driver staff with prospects of pay raises

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Guilford County Schools could soon have an answer to the issue surrounding pay raises for school bus drivers.

Talks have been going on for months on how to raise the minimum wage for county bus drivers to $15, which would be the starting salary for new drivers.

The district currently has 44 open positions, which is a drastic improvement from where the school district started the school year.

Drivers who have been working double routes even said they have seen their load decrease slightly over the past few weeks. However, the feeling of being stretch thin is still there.

Early this week, Commissioner Melvin "Skip" Alston put forth the idea to move $5.8 million in unused funds from the county to the school district to help them financially.

The money comes from a surplus after the county ordered new voting machines, a cost that only used $2.2 million of an $8 million budget.

The district said they would devote $1.3 million of that to give its bus drivers a pay increase.

“Help us keep our bus drivers and work to recruit additional bus drivers,” explained Guilford County Schools CFO Angie Henry.

She said the county has waited long enough for a state budget bill to be passed in Raleigh. Now, like many counties have begun to do, they want to take financial matters to the local level.

“We’re hoping all of our commissioners agree that this is important and a priority for us," Henry said.

If approved, the remaining funds could be used to repair HVAC systems that are in desperate need of repairs, or they could go to other areas of the school district.

“We’re looking, like many districts across the start are, to cobble enough dollars,” Henry explained. “Now that we know kind of where we’re at.”

While there is optimism this will work, County Commissioner Alan Benson said it’s possible they could table the discussion indefinitely.

He explained that there is still a lot to discuss with the possibility of giving the funds to the school district.

In a phone conversation before Thursday's county commissioners meeting, Benson explained that they have asked to see more financial data from the district.

Specifically how GCS has spent $150,000 in contractual finances, and to see a list of teachers who have come and gone in recent years.

As of Thursday, before the meeting, that is data he said they have not seen yet.

He also explained that it’s possible they could table the discussion and use that $5.8 million in other county projects.

The district, however, explained that, if approved, they will create a budget to present at the school board meeting on Dec. 17.

If it passes there, drivers could see extra money in their paychecks by January.

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