Polk Co. lowers education requirement for school bus drivers

Facing a stubborn shortage of school bus drivers, the Polk County School Board voted Tuesday night to increase starting pay and drop the requirement that drivers have a high school diploma or GED.

Under the plan approved unanimously by the school board, the base wage for full-time drivers will increase to $13.40 an hour, from the current rate of $12.18 an hour. That would make Polk bus drivers among the highest paid in Central Florida, according to a press release from the school district. 

The pay raise still needs to be approved by the bus drivers’ union. 

Polk is in dire need of drivers. Several weeks into the new school, dozens of jobs still need to be filled.

Existing drivers are taking on extra routes to cover. There are more kids than usual on a bus, and commute times are longer than what they should be.

To attract more drivers, the school board also voted unanimously to drop the requirement that drivers have at least a GED. 

Longtime driver Margie Peterson told FOX 13 “A GED or diploma is not going to say whether they are a qualified driver.  It takes patience,” she said. “It takes being willing to learn the law and to learn safety.”

Polk Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says it has become increasingly difficult to recruit bus drivers in recent years. 

She said the school administration is pleased with the board’s decision to drop the high school diploma/GED requirement. 

“This will make a larger pool of applicants eligible to drive for Polk County Public Schools and, we expect, it will make it easier to fill those crucial positions,” she said.

While a high school diploma or GED is no longer required, it is still “preferred” according to the new job description approved by the board Tuesday night.