New bipartisan legislation in the Old Dominion State would allow retired state workers to be rehired by public school districts without having their pensions negatively affected.
Bills in both the Virginia House and Senate address a lack of school bus drivers by providing state retirees with enough daily hours behind the wheel to make it worth their while.
Delegate Rob Bell, who introduced House Bill 351 on Jan. 1, explained to School Transportation News that current state law only allows retired state employees who go to work for a private company to continue drawing full benefits, without being limited by the number of hours they work for their new employer.
But if they return to work for a state government agency—for example, to a school district as a bus driver—they can only work a fraction of a day without forfeiting retirement benefits, at least until they again retire.
An amended law would change that and provide protections to school bus drivers as “critical” employees, similar to teachers and district administrators.
Committee referral for House Bill 351 was pending at this report. This week, Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat, also introduced Senate Bill No. 324. It was referred to the Committee on Education and Health.
Both bills specifically call for the state schools superintendent to require that school bus drivers be included in an annual survey conducted by local districts to identify “critical” shortages of teachers and school administrators. Local school superintendents would report critical shortages of school bus drivers to their school boards, the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).
Delegate Bell added that officials at Albermarle County Public Schools, located near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, brought the issue to his attention. The district is among those statewide that are experiencing varying degrees of driver shortages.
“This is a fairly innovative, novel way to try and address it,” he added.
Related: Florida School Bus Driver Retires After 46 Years Behind the Wheel
Related: Half a Million Miles Later, N.J. School Bus Driver Retires
Related: Driver Retirement Causes Shortage
Related: Nevada School Bus Driver Retires After 54 Years
James Foley, director of transportation for Albemarle County Public Schools, said the need to change state law arose from an “unintended consequence” of raising driver pay at his district last year.
“In the past, drivers had to have eight base hours a day to qualify for VRS,” he explained. “We were able to lower that to six hours, [because] we are able to say what VRS eligibility hours are for each position. That is our right.”
However, current state law dictates that employees who are collecting state pensions can only work 80 percent of the eligible hours. That dropped the number of hours a retired worker could drive from 6.4 hours, which Foley said allows for both morning and afternoon routes, to 4.8 hours.
“We had to split routes,” he shared. “One would drive in the a.m. and the other in the p.m. The only way around this is to deem school bus drivers as a ‘critical’ position. Immediately that would provide us with three more drivers.”
Albemarle approached the Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation with an idea to survey members to determine if they would support the necessary legislation to reclassify school bus drivers as critical employees. Foley said that about half of the state’s 133 school districts responded, and 80 percent of those indicated they were also short drivers.
“A lot of them expressed a great interest in a bill,” he added.