Richland 2 drivers cruise to new pay plan

Five years ago, Richland 2 put its bus drivers on the same pay schedule as the rest of the school district's employees.

The drivers get paid year-round.

For Vicky Robertson, last year's South Carolina Bus Driver of the Year, the arrangement helps her family's budget.

"It was nice to know it was coming," Robertson said. "You know exactly what you have coming in your paycheck."

In August, the state's unemployment rate dropped to 11.5 percent in large part due to the re-opening of schools. Colleges and local school districts added more than 16,000 jobs to the state's economy in August, according to the S.C. Employment Security Commission.

In many school districts, bus drivers, custodians and other staff only get paid when school is in session, said Sam McClary, labor market analyst at the Employment Security Commission. They are considered unemployed workers during the summer.

The Midlands might be the exception.

Richland 2, Lexington-Richland 5, Lexington 3 and Kershaw pay their staff year-round. Richland 1 gives employees the option of spreading the paychecks out over 12 months or only receiving checks for the months they work.

One reason Richland 2 moved its bus drivers to year-round pay was to keep them off unemployment rolls, said Wayne Norton, the district's transportation manager.

The district also made the switch on how it pays drivers to bring income stability its 137 drivers and so they could qualify for full-time benefits, Norton said.

Starting wage for Richland 2 bus drivers is $12.40 per hour. They work six hours per day, five days a week, Norton said.

Most school districts in the Midlands pay their bus drivers, custodians and other support staff for 12 months. But that is not the case in many rural counties in South Carolina.

"There are 85 districts in the state and there are 85 ways to do this," said William Wyatt, a Richland 2 transportation supervisor.

In Richland 2, some bus drivers work during the summer, taking students on field trips and helping with camps. Many, though, take the summer months off to stay at home with their children. "You don't have to get day care," Robertson said.

- Noelle Phillips