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Your child’s school bus driver may be in for a $100 weekly bonus, simply for showing up and doing his or her job.

That’s on top of an hourly pay rate increase for the school year starting Aug. 24 at Evanston/Skokie District 65.

On Monday, the school board’s Personnel, Buildings and Grounds and Finance Committee recommended approval of a contract amendment with the district’s main bus contractor, Positive Connections, for the 2022-23 school year.

District 65 School Board committee meeting on Monday.

The $1 per hour pay raise is on top of another $1 hourly increase in the last school year, bringing the starting rate now to $22.50 per hour.

And then, there’s the “weekly attendance bonus.”

According to the amended contract, which still needs the full school board’s OK, the $100 per week bonus is for drivers who work routes on both the morning and afternoon shifts, five days a week.

If the driver shows up each scheduled school day and works every regularly assigned shift in a week, he or she gets the 100 bucks.

Think of it as a perfect attendance award. Every week.

District 65 officials were not thrilled about the deal, but it came down to the law of supply and demand, where those behind the wheel have the district over a barrel.

Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said “the great resignation is still going on, and not too many people want to drive a school bus.”

Obafemi said, “We were hoping the driver shortage would ease up and go away,” but that has not happened. It’s a nationwide problem.

So to get more drivers, you have to pay more money.

It was not mentioned how much more the pay raise and bonuses will total, but Business Manager Kathy Zalewski said the district will spend almost $5 million on transportation, which includes a 10% increase in the upcoming school year.

Raphael Obafemi and Kathy Zalewski.

That increase will likely cover additional fuel and maintenance costs as well as higher pay.

District 65 officials have said the Positive Connections,which carries almost all of District 65’s bused students, is basically a monopoly, and efforts to find other operators have not been successful.

The district has previously cut transportation costs somewhat by reducing the number of routes, requiring fewer buses and drivers.

More of that is expected when the new 5th Ward School opens in 2024-25, allowing more children to walk to school and not have to ride a bus.

But that’s a couple of years away.

For now, Obafemi said he does expect enough drivers to be on hand for the first day of school next week.

There is one bit of exciting school bus news.

The district’s bus contractor for its Head Start preschool program, Compass Transportation, will begin using an electric bus, retrofitted from diesel with a $240,000 state grant.

But while the electric vehicle is an environmentally conscious idea, unimpacted by $5 per gallon fuel, it’s just a tiny step.

Compass has just two buses for District 65. The electric bus is one of them.

Update at noon 12/16/22: District 65 officials say the hourly pay raise and bonuses for school bus drivers are expected to cost $360,000 for the upcoming school year.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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