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DeKalb superintendent quizzed on bus driver shortage, Druid Hills renovation

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DeKalb superintendent quizzed on bus driver shortage, Druid Hills renovation

Superintendent Devon Horton speaks with attendees at a town hall held at Druid Hills Middle School on Oct. 3. Photo provided by DeKalb County Schools

By Anila Yoganathan, contributor

Greater Decatur, GA — DeKalb County School Board member Whitney McGinniss hosted Superintendent Devon Horton at a town hall at Druid Hills Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 3, where the superintendent’s cabinet members answered questions about the county’s bus driver shortage and plans for building renovations.

The district has lost about 300 bus drivers since 2021, a third of the workforce, Chief Operating Officer Erick Hofstetter said. In an effort to attract new drivers and retain current ones, the district is taking a holistic approach, interim Human Resources Administrator Takeisha Ward-Smith said.

This includes increased pay to $20.55 an hour this year, a new hire incentive of $2,500, and a retention incentive, Ward-Smith said. The district also made changes to the retirement program.

“We have a lot of returning drivers. So when you see rates that are advertised in other districts being $20, $25 per hour, if their rates were so great, why would they still need drivers? So pay isn’t always the only thing, it’s just a part of the strategy,” Ward-Smith asked about raising wages a bit more for drivers.

Cabinet members also answered questions about building renovation plans, specifically plans for Druid Hills High School.

Hofstetter said the county has approved an architect and plans to execute the contract this month for the high school. The architect will conduct a site study for the Druid Hills campus that should be ready by late spring. Hofstetter noted the project is complex, “more so than other schools.”

“Now the spirit of modernization according to the department of ed is to bring the building up to modern code to the extent feasible,” he said. “It’s going to be very challenging, especially with older buildings.”

There are 67 projects the district is planning, designing or constructing over the next two years, with the goal to bring buildings up to modern standards.

Other questions that were addressed included literacy rates for the district, the district’s collaboration with community organizations and refugee settlement agencies, and the district’s investments in students’ mental health.

The school board has approved additional psychologists, social workers and student engagement coaches in addition to the mental health liaison assigned to each school, a cabinet member said.

“We have to give the children something to look forward to, something to live for, so when they’re deciding, they decide better for themselves and for their peers,” Deputy Superintendent Kishia Towns said.

A second town hall is planned at Cross Keys High School on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

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