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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Hillsborough school superintendent hopes to increase bus driver salaries and criticizes proposed funding cuts

Hillsborough County Schools
School Superintendent Addison Davis announced at a press conference Wednesday that he's asking the school board to raise bus driver pay from its current initial rate of $14.57 an hour to $16.04 an hour.

The possible pay raises for school bus drivers was discussed the same day the Florida House approved slashing funding for Hillsborough County and 11 other school districts.

Like many school districts across the areaand the country, Hillsborough County faces a bus driver shortage. Right now, the county is short about 130 drivers.

District officials hope a pay raise will draw new drivers.

School Superintendent Addison Davis announced at a press conference Wednesday that he's asking the school board to raise bus driver pay from its current initial rate of $14.57 an hour to $16.04 an hour.

“This sends a loud message that it’s important that we compensate these professionals and practitioners to help us get children to our schools on time and home safely every single day,” he said.

The proposal will be brought before the school board when they meet Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Senate introduceda plan to raise the minimum wage for every school employee in the state, including school bus drivers, to $15 an hour.

The news came the same day the Florida House approved slashing $200 million in funding for 12 districts, including Hillsborough.

The districts mandated masks for students during the COVID-19 pandemic, violating an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials.

Davis came out against the proposal Wednesday, saying the district's administrative personnel are needed and the loss of about $14 million in state funding for Hillsborough would hurt.

“I just have a hard time with individuals that want to take money away from children and resources away from students,” he said.

School board chair Nadia Combs added that she's disappointed by the idea.

“We were trying to keep our schools open and keep our students safe,” she said.

In fact, Combs said, the district should be rewarded for doing so.

PreK-12 Appropriations Committee Chairman Randy Fine (R-Brevard County) proposed the cuts, called the “Putting Parents First Adjustment,” as part of the House's $105 billion state budget.

DeSantis told reporters last week that he opposed the plan, saying that parents whose children were required to wear masks should be able to sue school districts.

But on Tuesday, DeSantis tweeted a statement that appeared to back the House proposal.

“Thanks to Speaker (Chris) Sprowls, Representative Fine, and the House of Representatives for heeding my call to protect students and teachers from accountability measures affecting union-controlled politicians and bureaucrats who defied Florida law by force masking kids. Most students didn’t want to wear masks in the first place! Let’s also give parents recourse for harms imposed on their kids due to this defiance. They should get compensated for academic, social, and emotional problems caused by these policies,” DeSantis tweeted.

Some Democrats who voted against the budget Wednesday were hopeful that the adjustment will be removed when the House and Senate negotiate differences in their spending proposals.

As of Wednesday, the Senate is not considering a similar cut.

Information from the Associated Press and News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Updated: February 16, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST
This story has been updated with the House approving the proposed budget late Wednesday.
Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.