BROOKLYN, Md. (WJZ) — There’s no question that bus drivers play a key role in every school district. They make sure students make it to school on time and back home safely after the bell rings.

It’s for those reasons that Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto came up with a $7.4 million plan to raise pay for all its school bus drivers and attendants by $5 an hour.

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The Board of Education signed off on Dr. Arlotto’s plan at its meeting Monday evening.

It couldn’t have come at a better time – drivers with one bus company went on strike last week, calling for higher wages to match a more demanding workload brought about by a nationwide shortage.

The need isn’t lost on parents, like Patrick Broadbent, whose daughter attends an Anne Arundel County elementary school.

“It’s an essential job, bus drivers, and I think it’s something they need to get compensated for,” he said.

Broadbent acknowledged that ferrying around other people’s children isn’t something he’s cut out for. That’s why he recognizes how important it is to hire and retain school bus drivers.

“If you’ve got a (Commercial Driver’s License), would you rather drive a truck for Pepsi or Coke or something, or would you rather drive around a bunch of kids?” he wondered aloud.

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Broadbent said his daughter takes the bus to and from school. This year, he said, has been different.

“Her kindergarten year she had the same bus driver every day,” he said. “This year it fluctuates like she’ll have one bus driver for one week and then a different bus driver.”

Melissa Ellis, president of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, said the board wants to increase bus drivers’ pay not only as a show of appreciation but also to give students and parents stability.

“It is a critical role,” Ellis said.

Besides giving drivers and attendants pay raises, Superintendent Arlotto has also proposed setting aside federal funds to add $2,000 signing bonuses for new hires. as well as retention bonuses for existing drivers.

The board’s request is subject to approval from County Executive Steuart Pittman. While the bonus pay requires a green light from the County Council, the bonuses could be approved immediately.

The district maintains a database of reported issues with bus routes throughout the county. Click here to check it out.

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Rachael Cardin