Cobb school bus drivers to get pay bump; Mableton school renamed

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

By Rebecca Gaunt

Bus drivers will receive raises of $5.25 per hour in an effort to combat the shortage of 200 drivers that is straining the Cobb County School District.

About 70% of Cobb students ride the bus.

The bump will cost the district an estimated $7.6 million and put hourly rates between $25 and $33.32. According to the district, the item is “budget neutral” due to the 2022 property tax digest growing at 11.55%, rather than the predicted 10.49%.

Last year, drivers and monitors received two rounds of $1,200 bonuses, but that didn’t have as much effect on retention and recruitment as hoped.

Drivers were also eligible for the 8.5–13.1% employee raises included in the $1.4 billion 2023 budget.

The pain of the driver shortage is affecting school districts across the country.

“We’re pretty much out of options for right now,” Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said. “It’s also to bring our bus drivers in a more competitive position with other surrounding metro Atlanta school districts.”

Board member Leroy “Tre” Hutchins suggested partnering with Chattahoochee Technical College to create a pipeline of recruits with commercial drivers licenses, and Randy Scamihorn expressed support for implementing signing bonuses. Jaha Howard proposed the possibility of less per hour, but more regularity in hours with duties assigned between morning and afternoon driving shifts, as well as a district-wide appreciation campaign to accompany the raise.

Mableton school to be renamed for Betty Gray

The board approved the renaming of Lindley 6th Grade Academy, which is being repurposed into a middle school serving 6th–8th grade, for former Cobb principal and board member Betty Gray.

Gray died in June. According to her obituary, she was the first woman to become a principal in Cobb County in 1972. She served four terms on the school board from 1992–2008.

“When the Lindley Middle School on Veterans Memorial was busting at the seams, Betty Gray was instrumental in saying, hey, let’s reuse that existing building that we were no longer using to become the one-year school,” Hutchins said.

Board member Charisse Davis was the lone opposition, though she clarified her concern was not about Gray.

“I remember something that came up when we did our naming committee discussion…Mr. Banks mentioned something that I totally support right now, that we should get away from naming schools after people,” she said. “I would be really interested in seeing what the community would have chosen.”

Joseph Wheeler High School in Marietta, which is in Davis’ post, has long been the subject of controversy since it was named for the Confederate general at a time when Cobb schools were being integrated. Efforts to change its name have been unsuccessful so far.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

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