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Dozens Of Baltimore County School Bus Drivers Call In Sick

TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) -- Seventy-seven Baltimore County school bus drivers called in sick Monday, forcing drivers who did work to cover double the normal number of routes.

It was nearly a repeat of last Friday when 89 of the county's school bus drivers called in sick. The move comes as bus drivers demand pay raises while the county's leaders contemplate incentives to keep their workforce happy.

Baltimore County Public Schools sent out an alert notifying parents of potential disruptions to bus service, a source of frustration for many families.

"Friday, the earlier bus, the high school, they didn't show up," county resident Jean Crossont told WJZ. "The parents had to go pick [students] up."

School district leaders acknowledged they've been hit hard by a shortage in drivers, especially with 138 vacant positions that have yet to be filled.

Last week, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams announced plans to spend more than $5 million on bonuses and other incentives for drivers.

Incentives outlined in the plan would include a $250 sign-on bonus, a $250 employee referral incentive, a $50 monthly attendance reward and a retention bonus of up to $1,000.

Some residents who spoke with WJZ expressed frustration about the situation.

"I think it's time people stop this and go back to work like the rest of us," Crossont said.

The situation isn't unique to Baltimore County. In fact, there's a nationwide shortage of drivers that has been felt in neighboring counties.

Last week, Howard County bus drivers refused to work Monday morning. The move caused a short-lived disruption to bus service that led county leaders to set aside $2 million for bonuses.

In Anne Arundel County, bus drivers with Annapolis Bus Company voted to unionize after they went on strike last month.

Some Baltimore County residents, like Beverly Wells, think the drivers have a point: they deserve better compensation.

"What is a bonus going to help you if they get [COVID-19] and die?" Wells wondered aloud. "You know what I'm saying?"

Drivers have said they want a permanent pay raise.

Olszewski said the county is exploring an expansion of the bonuses and incentives the county is offering that would extend beyond the school year.

He said there are plans to hold a workshop to meet with drivers and discuss their concerns.

"I am so grateful for what they do, day in and day out," Olszewski said. "I am committed to finding solutions that remain to be out there."

The bus drivers WJZ spoke with said they plan on returning to work, but they're hopeful calling in sick got the attention of county leaders.

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