LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has spent $2.2 million over the past seven months rewarding bus drivers and special-needs transportation assistants for coming to work each day, according to data provided to WDRB News this week

The number of those employees taking advantage of the perfect attendance bonus has averaged 830 employees a pay period -- $170,000 every two weeks -- since the incentive was passed at the Oct. 24 school board meeting.

The pilot program -- which will be reviewed by the district this summer -- pays $200 bonus each time a bus driver and special-needs transportation assistant reports to work every day during a two-week pay period. It was aimed at combating a bus driver shortage and reducing the number of those calling out sick daily. 

Randy Frantz, the director of transportation for JCPS, says there have been 257 employees who have received all 13 perfect attendance bonus payments since October, each netting $2,600 in extra pay. 

"It has reduced absenteeism," Frantz said, adding that the number of dropped bus routes has decreased since the bonus incentive was added.

Starting pay for bus drivers in JCPS is $16.70 an hour plus benefits. The president of the union that represents the transportation employees says the bonuses have boosted morale.

"I think it's made them feel a little more appreciated because their job's in demand and they're depended on," said John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783. "And in return for showing up for work, they get a bonus for doing it."

The bonuses will cost JCPS about $3 million by the end of the school year -- money from the district's general fund that will not go to other programs.

“We’ve got to get our kids to school every day, and, as a district, we made the decision, albeit at $2.2 million expense, we made the decision to get our kids to and from school safely," Frantz said. "And we’ve been successful at doing that."

The data obtained by WDRB through an open records request shows the number of employees who have had perfect attendance for each pay period:

The incentive was the latest move by the district to address the shortage and issue of drivers who call out sick daily. The first two months of the school year, JCPS had to cancel more than 100 routes – mostly to and from the district’s alternative schools due to both the shortage and absenteeism.

In September, 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.

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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