The Madison Consolidated Schools Board of Trustees formally approved a 3% pay raise and additional bonuses for non-certified employees and bus drivers Wednesday night, who in previous weeks have helped the district meet staffing demands amid a shortage before the start of the school year.

Meeting at the board office during the second week of in-person classes since March, the board heard a report by Superintendent Jeff Studebaker outlining updates in benefits and pay scales targeted at retaining and recruiting drivers, custodians and other support staff at a time when other districts are beginning to offer similar inducements.

Madison was down six drivers a couple weeks before the school year started, but the district has hired at least six in a span of two weeks and looks to become fully staffed in the coming weeks thanks to the more competitive package, Studebaker said.

He said at a time when many drivers are nearing retirement, retaining newer and younger drivers will be crucial.

Drivers will see a 3% pay increase this year, costing the district about $72,000 total. Drivers whose routes became longer this year due to COVID-19 protocols will also receive extra compensation with the bonus for drivers who run three to four hours a day bumped from $2 to $5. Those who drive four to five hours a day will receive an increased bonus from $3 to $10.

Bus aides will also receive a bonus for the first time; those who ride three to four hours will get paid an extra $2.50, while bus aides riding four to five hours will earn an extra $5. That increase alone will cost Madison $47,000, Studebaker said.

Also included in the benefits package for drivers who don’t qualify for health insurance is access to the district’s Employee Wellness Clinic on Michigan Road. Madison will cover the monthly access fee while drivers will have a small copay and reduced access to care. This will cost Madison $28,000 depending on how many drivers take that option, Studebaker said.

As for the overall health insurance benefit, the board on Wednesday voted to increase that by 4% this year.

Drivers will also have the chance to become full-time employees of the district for the first time this year due to staffing demands. This means that after driving a route, a bus driver could work at one of the buildings as a custodian, lunch aide or instructional support (ISP) employee to achieve full time status. Madison recently did this with two drivers who have served as ISPs in between their morning and afternoon routes and have since had at least six drivers accept similar offers, Studebaker said.

Non-certified employees — like full-time janitors, assistants and lunch staff — will receive a 3% increase, Studebaker said. The cost of those raises to Madison this year is $115,000.

Non-certified employees who take less than five sick or personal days also qualify for a $500 stipend that was approved Wednesday night. Roughly 17 employees qualified for that last year, according to Studebaker.

Board members expressed their appreciation of the district’s employees Wednesday, noting they were a big part of the district’s smooth start to the year despite changes in busing and other procedures related to the pandemic.

While there were typical first-day issues with transportation last Wednesday — traffic backed up to Clifty Drive from Anderson Elementary — and the added burden of double routing, Studebaker said everything was running smoothly by day three and both students and staff have been diligent about wearing face coverings at all times.

The board also praised students at both the elementary and secondary schools for complying with mask requirements and employees for sanitizing and keeping things under control.

“Every year you guys do a great job preparing for the opening as far as academics, but the added layer of everything with COVID just made everything more difficult. Everybody has stepped up,” Board Vice President Jodi Yancey said.

While no cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Madison students so far, Studebaker said 11-12 students had been sent home the first couple weeks to quarantine after the supposedly came into contact with an infected person.

While Madison might be thorough in its prevention methods, the district has no control over what students do outside of school, Studebaker added. He mentioned at least two instances in which parents sent their children to school despite knowing they were exposed to someone with the virus.

“We’re going to have a positive case, just by sheer statistics, we will have one, at least one. Our goal is to mitigate the risk, our goal is to try and keep people healthy and we’re trying to minimize the spread if we get one. So far, everyone has been incredible with the protocol and it’s going well so far,” Studebaker said.