Tomball ISD is continuing to struggle with hiring bus drivers and getting students to class on time in the mornings, Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said to the TISD board of trustees during a presentation Dec. 13. The district has taken multiple steps since the beginning of the year to mitigate the issue with several improvements made, Gutierrez said.

To start the school year, there were as many as 28 vacant bus routes, according to the presentation, meaning there were no bus drivers to pick up students on those routes, which forced multiple routes to be consolidated. Because of this, 208 bus runs of 4,261 runs arrived after the morning tardy bell in August, even though the district’s goal is for buses to arrive 30 minutes before the bell, Gutierrez said.

“We’re not going to make excuses,” Gutierrez said.

However, since the beginning of the school year, the district has hired 23 bus drivers and reduced the number of late bus runs to 52 of 6,573 runs in November, Gutierrez said.

“These numbers are really good,” said Director of Transportation Sandra Dillman, who was hired in October to help with transportation issues. “We’re getting better.”

The district raised the starting pay for bus drivers to $18 per hour at the beginning of the year to retain and attract more employees, Gutierrez said. Despite that, 17 bus drivers have left the district since August, and a total of 33 have left since April, according to the presentation.

Board Assistant Secretary John McStravick said the board considered raising the pay for bus drivers to even more than $18 per hour at the beginning of the year, but feedback from administrators indicated a larger raise was not necessary, he said.

“Do we feel like maybe we were wrong in our assessment in the fall?” McStravick said.

Board President Matt Schiel said he is disappointed bus drivers are leaving TISD to make more money at a different district or in a different field. He said he believes it costs the district more money to constantly train new bus drivers just for them to leave shortly after joining the district.

“Let’s look at all the options for pay. Give me something that we can actually attract people [with],” Schiel said. “You’re costing me more money by hiring new people every two years.”

Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said she believes bus drivers are leaving for many reasons, including changes in leadership, the COVID-19 pandemic and age.

​​“Right now, there are many reasons why individuals are leaving. ... [It’s] not necessarily always pay,” Salazar-Zamora said.

Dillman said another reason she believes bus drivers have been leaving TISD is because it takes 30 years for a bus driver to reach the top of the pay scale in the district, which is $22 per hour. Dillman said it is recommended that drivers reach the top of the pay scale in six years to retain them.

Gutierrez said the district is looking at more long-term options to solve the issues with transportation. This includes increasing the distance to walk to bus stops, adding cluster stops for gated communities and adjusting school start times, he said.

“At the point where we’ve started exploring school start times, we’ve exhausted all options,” Gutierrez said.