On Thursday, Dec. 5, the county commissioners meeting room in the Old Guilford County Court House was decked out for Christmas – and there was plenty of Christmas cheer to go around after the board unanimously approved spending $800,000 in county funds to raise the pay of school bus drivers.

The county also threw in some money to bring all Guilford County employees up to at least $15 an hour.

Commissioner Skip Alston has been advocating for both moves for some time and in recent weeks bus drivers for the Guilford County school system have been on the verge of striking in protest of low pay as well as other complaints.

The county commissioners approved the move at the Dec. 5 meeting after many teachers, drivers and school advocates pleaded as speakers from the floor for more money in order to raise the pay of the school system’s lowest paid workers.

Recently, the county purchased new voting machines – expected to cost about $8 million – for only $2 million and change, and that led Alston and school advocates to begin eyeing those savings as a potential source of funding.

The $800,000 will be used to bring the school bus drivers up to a minimum of $15 an hour and will also satisfy related salary “compression issues.” That is, some of the money will be used to up the pay of bus drivers who are already making over $15 an hour to create some salary distance between them and those who are new to the $15 an hour pay rate.

In the same motion, the county designated another $370,000 to bring the salary of all full-time Guilford County employees to a minimum of $15 an hour.

The commissioners had several questions regarding the exact cost of making the moves and the funds will only be allocated after appropriate financial checks are conducted by county staff.