LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Effective immediately, JCPS bus drivers and special needs transportation assistants who have perfect attendance will begin receiving a weekly $100 bonus.

The pilot program -- aimed at combating a bus driver shortage and reducing the number of those calling out sick daily -- was approved by the school board on Tuesday night. 

Since the 2016-17 year began, the district has had to cancel more than 100 routes – mostly to and from the district’s alternative schools.

The bonus gives bus drivers and special needs transportation assistants up to $400 a month in extra pay, if they have perfect attendance, starting Monday, Oct. 24. Employees would receive the bonus if he or she worked all scheduled hours and used no leave time, including no sick, personal, emergency, or dock time during each two week pay period. 

In addition, officials said during this shortage of bus drivers, teachers will be paid their hourly rate if needed to drive a bus route or ride as a bus monitor.

The bonuses are part of a pilot program that will be reviewed at the end of the Jan. 17, 2017 pay period to determine if it has been successful and whether it will be continued for the remainder of this school year, officials said.

"I have this enormous sense of urgency about our bus driver situation," board member Lisa Willner said during the meeting, asking if the district is doing enough to recruit and pay its drivers. 

Willner and board member Stephanie Horne noted they are concerned over the large number of routes that have been canceled involving the district's alternative schools.

"Our most vulnerable students are being left without a ride to school," Horne said. "This is unacceptable to me."

In response, Superintendent Donna Hargens said it is "unacceptable to me as well."

"We have developed 8-point plan so that we don’t leave any child without transportation," Hargens said.

Michael Raisor, the district’s chief operations officer, said the district has had to come up with some different solutions to not just recruit new drivers, but also "retain our drivers and incentivize them to come to work each day.” 

Raisor says if all bus drivers and special needs transportation assistants were to come into work each day and get the bonus, it could cost the district up to $3 million annually.

Tuesday's action by the board is the latest move by the district to address the shortage and issue of drivers who call out sick daily.

Last month, the board approved a plan to pay for a new driver’s CDL training – reimbursing them the $75 cost – as well as give them a $150 bonus after they work 90 days.

The starting pay for a bus driver in JCPS is $16.58, which is higher than the national average rate of $15.20 an hour, but the deficit JCPS is experiencing comes at a time when there is a shortage of school bus drivers nationwide.

JCPS has a total of 893 bus routes – down from 964 routes last year – and 896 drivers, but around 20 drivers are out on medical leave and an additional 7-10 percent that call in sick each day.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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