Ragsdale at 10/14 work session

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale speaks during a Board of Education work session Thursday afternoon.

Faced with too-few substitute teachers, Cobb County School District offered them a temporary raise. It worked like a charm, district officials said Thursday. But it seems money can’t solve all the district’s staffing problems, they added.

A similar bonus meant to attract bus drivers has been of little help, according to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale.

“We are short bus drivers,” he said at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting. “So if you would be interested — I don’t think I’ve ever done recruitment during my remarks, but these are strenuous times that we are in.”

Cobb Schools bus drivers and monitors will receive a $1,200 “retention bonus” in their December paychecks, the district announced in August. Two weeks later, the district announced substitute teachers, supply teachers, substitute nurses and supply nurses would be eligible for temporary pay increases through May 2022.

That latter incentive “obviously worked,” Ragsdale said. The “percentage fill rate of substitutes has ticked up extremely well.”

But the bonus for bus drivers has not, the superintendent continued, a problem all the more dire in a district where almost three out of every four students rides the bus — a “tremendously high percentage of bus ridership for a district as large as we are,” he said.

The problem is nationwide, and no district seems to have found a solution, Ragsdale said. And some have made “pretty drastic” changes to adjust, such as four-day work weeks for drivers.

“We are still employing additional strategies that we’re not really talking about publicly, because, you know the old saying, ‘steal the best and leave the rest,’ we don’t want people stealing our ideas either,” Ragsdale said. “I say it kind of tongue-in-cheek, but the harsh reality is, we’re having to have the conversations in executive cabinet about, there is a critical point ... we are literally having the conversation at least once a week about, OK, we got to talk about how we’re going to be able to do business.”

The district is also facing a shortage of food service workers, and last week announced a $1,200 bonus for those employed as of Oct. 25 and who stay through the remainder of the school year.

In other business, the school board Thursday night unanimously approved work on a new gym and renovations to a career training center at Sprayberry High School, as well as a construction contract for a new, $2.8 million physical education building at Sope Creek Elementary School and the $1.44 million purchase of a dozen 48-passenger school buses with air conditioning.

The Sprayberry projects are expected to cost a total of $22.9 million, funded by the current iteration of the 1% special sales tax for education approved by voters in 2017. The projects, to be contracted with Balfour Beatty Construction of Atlanta, are expected to be complete in March 2023.

Sope Creek’s PE building replacement will be funded with sales tax funds, and Austell’s Swofford Construction Inc. will be the contractor for the project. Completion is expected June 2022.

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