LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The incentive plan by Jefferson County Public Schools to give its bus drivers and special-needs transportation assistants a $200 bonus for coming to work each day will be discontinued over legality concerns, but a new district plan would offer an hourly attendance incentive instead.

According to documentation posted on Tuesday's school board meeting website, JCPS was notified several months ago by the Kentucky Department of Education that the district's $200 attendance bonus may not comply with state regulations.

"KDE has also advised that an attendance bonus cannot be paid if the cost of the bonus exceeds the cost to provide substitute bus drivers," according to the rationale to discontinue to the monthly bonus from JCPS chief financial officer Cordelia Hardin reads.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the district, said a new proposal, up for board approval on Tuesday, calls for a new differential pay rate of an additional $2.50 per hour for all full-time bus drivers and special-needs transportation assistants.

"(JCPS) consulted with its attorney and felt the best way to provide incentives and comply with state law was to offer the hourly-rate incentive for driver attendance," Martin said.

The initial pilot program had paid a $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. 

Under this new proposal, drivers and special-needs transportation assistants will earn about the same amount of money -- or more -- for perfect attendance, Martin said. 

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, told WDRB News on Thursday that the state provided JCPS guidance in October 2016 when the district was considering creating the bonus program for bus drivers.

"To be clear, KDE did not recently notify the district the program was illegal," she said. "KDE did, last fall, provide guidance to the district on what the law said about bonuses and what was allowable to assist district officials as they were discussing and creating the bonus program."

Rodriguez said the state recently received information from JCPS officials that indicated the district may be ending the program because financial information from the first year of the bonus program showed the bonus was not cheaper than the cost of substitutes to replace the bus drivers when they are absent.

District officials were not immediately available to comment on Thursday morning, however, according to the school board agenda, JCPS is proposing a new plan to combat a bus driver shortage and the need for all drivers and special-needs transportation assistants to be in attendance every day.

The proposal, up for board approval on Tuesday, calls for a new differential pay rate of an additional $2.50 per hour for all full-time bus drivers and special-needs transportation assistants.

It reads: 

Effective with time worked beginning August 14, 2017, a Bus Driver or SNTA reporting to work every day for their normal scheduled route during the two week pay period would receive the new differential pay rate of $2.50 per hour for each hour worked in the pay period in addition to the employee’s regular hourly rate. The $2.50 per hour differential pay rate would only be paid if the employee worked all scheduled hours and used no leave time in the pay period.

Hardin says the program will be reviewed at the end of the January 26, 2018, pay period to determine if it has been successful and whether it will be continued for the balance of this school year.

Here is a Q&A the district has about the new proposal:

This story will be updated.

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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