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Metro county using school bus drivers, again, to fill in as substitute teachers

Driver Deborah Billups spent almost as much time in the classroom as she did on her school bus. She plans to fill in again this year.

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — School districts across the nation are facing a teacher shortage just days away from the new school year.

One metro county came up with a creative solution to fill the gaps that worked so well, they’re doing it for a second year.

“We hired 23 of our bus drivers to be substitutes,” Fayette County Substitute Services Specialist Cindy Robichaux said. “Sixteen of them subbed at least once.”

Driver Deborah Billups spent almost as much time in the classroom as she did on her bus.

“I was in the classroom every week, maybe two to three times a week,” Billups said. “The students were great.”

Robichaux says thanks to the drivers, who filled in between their morning and afternoon routes, the district was able to cover last-minute call-outs and overnight absences.

“We filled 146 positions that would not have been filled otherwise. So, there were some schools that had more than one bus driver in a single day working,” she said. “They really, really helped us out.”

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Fayette County still struggles with openings of its own. Only eight days from the start of school, the district still needs to hire 18 teachers, 12 bus drivers, and several special education paraprofessionals.

Without the bus drivers willing to fill in, they’d be in much worse shape.

“There are permanent positions that have not been filled yet. We are hoping that the bus drivers can help us out with some of those,” Robichaux said.

Billups says the schools aren’t the only ones benefitting. The drivers get paid at the rate of any other substitute teacher for the hours they work. Fayette County Schools just increased substitute teacher pay rates. 

Billups says money is not why they do it.

“We felt that our role was vital,” she said. “Last year I actually started receiving appreciation gifts as a substitute teacher.”

This solution has been so successful, the district plans to do it again for the 2022-2023 school year, and it could open the doors for other creative solutions to staffing problems.

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“We’ve been thinking,” Robichaux said. “Nothing’s in the works yet, but this worked out really well so we could find other areas where we could do this more.”

“As long as there’s a need, I’m going to be here to help,” Billups said.

The Fayette County School District is offering several incentives for new hires.

Along with an increased pay rate of $19.26 per hour, the district is hoping to recruit bus drivers with an $800 stipend for CDL training and a 90-day retention bonus of $500.

The district is also recruiting school nurses, nutrition workers, and several other positions. Interested applicants can apply on the district website.

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