A dozen of Amherst County Public Schools’ buses are set to get retrofitted at some point this year with air conditioning, a measure bus drivers have said is much needed for the division’s fleet.
The Amherst County School Board voted Jan. 13 to use $120,000 from the division’s capital improvement fund to cover the 12 buses with air conditioning. The cost per bus is estimated from $9,000 to $10,000 and to retrofit the entire fleet of just more than 65 buses would require about $500,000, according to school officials.
“I believe we have to do something for these bus drivers,” board member Ginger Burg said.
Bill Cox, a driver who represents the Amherst County Bus Driver Association, told the board during public comments at the board’s meeting that air conditioning on buses has been requested for the past four years and is a feature a younger generation of drivers expects.
“Higher pay to attract new bus drivers and retain current ones and air conditioning on buses, these are the things we ask the board to look at closely,” Cox said.
People are also reading…
He also asked the board to commit to including air conditioning and future bus orders.
Cox added Amherst schools have been lucky to not experience an extreme shortage of drivers as seen across the Lynchburg area and the nation.
“We’re competing in a local job market that has fast food chains paying more than we do to start,” Cox said. “Other counties are realizing drivers are not going to work for them if they don’t pay competitively.”
He said 13 drivers in Amherst schools are 75 and older.
Gail Martin, a driver for the division, said like a response to an approaching snowstorm, a relevant topic in recent days, school officials should plan for retaining and keeping drivers.
“The snowstorm the county has with a lack of drivers is getting worse,” Martin said.
Tina Cox, Bill Cox’s wife and a driver for the division, urged the board to improve the situation for drivers.
“We need to do something,” she said. “Not tomorrow, it needed to be done yesterday. We’re concerned for our future bus drivers. There’s not that many [of us] to replace. I’m not a spring chicken anymore.”
Board member Dawn Justice said bus driver positions require a special kind of person. Her parents were drivers, she said.
“I look forward us working aggressively toward the raise,” Justice said.
Chair Abby Thompson said the bus drivers’ concerns are heard and the board is doing its due diligence with many pressing needs to consider.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Vice Chair Terry said of improvements for the bus drivers. “It’s a process. We’re going to work through it.”
Thompson thanked drivers for their sacrifices and working in the dark before and after normal operating hours.
“Without you we wouldn’t have our students in our buildings,” Thompson said to drivers.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!