MILLEDGEVILLE — David Wilson is among nearly 70 school bus operators asking the Baldwin County Board of Education for better wages and compensation, pay incentives for training hours, a detailed discipline policy regarding student behavior, along with other concerns and wants.
“Bus drivers and aides from the transportation department wrote a letter of concern to the superintendent and school board addressing some of the issues we are having,” said Wilson. “We are asking for a 30 percent raise. We feel like we have been neglected for longer than the economy has been bad. We have drivers that have been here for 20 or 30 years, and they don’t make more money than a driver that comes in on day one. There’s a driver that has been here for 26 years, and she has the same check as mine; I’ve been driving for six years. We want a better step program.”
The school board received the letter in November and addressed it at the January work session.
“After they did not mention it at the December meeting, I formed a committee of bus drivers and aides, and we went before [School Superintendent Geneva Braziel] to discuss the letter and make sure she understood what we are asking and why. It then came up in the January work session,” Wilson said.
With understanding of the down economy and school system cuts, the letter states that “every area that is part of the Baldwin County school system has achieved the goal of fair wages to educate the children of our county, except transportation. This includes the employees of the board of education, principles, teachers and so on. However, over the past several years we, your transportation staff, have been possibly overlooked or simply neglected when the budget committee has decided on the new budget. Additionally, we have noticed a shortcoming in pay: starting pay verses veteran driver’s pay.”
The bus operators and aides conducted research to compare the pay scale of Baldwin County to surrounding counties. Their letter states that Hancock County drivers receive $12 per hour, Bibb County pays $12.72 starting with an average of $13.77, Putnam County pays from $12.50 to $14.50 per hour, and Wilkinson County pays $17.14 per hour.
“Jones County [receives] $13.68 starting pay, maxing out at $14.34 after 16 years of service. Baldwin County is starting their drivers out with around $10.50 per hour. With this is mind, we would like to request an explanation of pay variances and why there’s a lack of compensation for our safety sensitive positions,” Wilson said. “I have also talked to the state education department, and I didn’t get a whole lot of feedback from them.”
Braziel said the state sets the base salary and “we abide by that.”
“A supplement is added on to that base salary from the county. After a certain number of years, they do get increases, but it’s different by personnel. Teachers are different because we follow the state salary schedule for teachers. Bus drivers’ pay scale is different because it’s based off the number of years of service before there’s an increase. The transportation budget is separate from the personnel budget, so employees are not paid out of that budget,” she said. “As the school board works on a budget for the coming year, these are things [bus operators] want us to consider.”
The transportation employees are also seeking a pay increase for driving school buses on field trips and extra runs with pay starting at a minimum of $14.65 per hour.
“A day-one driver is supposed to make $14.67 and on field trips they make an extra $9.14 each hour,” Wilson said.
In order to become a bus operator, individuals must pass a background check, go through training of at least 12 hours, earn an initial learning permit, which costs $20, and pass a road test, costing $50, all in order to earn a license.
“All of the training until we get our license is not paid; that’s all straight out of our pocket. We also have monthly meetings that we don’t get paid for,” Wilson said. “How much training do we have to do before we get paid?”
Braziel said background checks for all personnel are not paid for by the state or local school system.
“Bus drivers have to be trained to get their license, which is required to drive a bus. They do not get paid for training because they aren’t hired at that point. There is no reimbursement either,” she said. “Teachers and all staff have to get background checks and everyone has to pay for their own.”
Students misbehaving on a bus or at a bus stop are punished as if the disruption or distraction happened at the students’ school. According to the unified student handbook, consequences include a parent and/or principal conference, up to a 10-day suspension depending on the severity of the incident, in-school suspension, and referral to an alternative program or expulsion.
“There is no detail on what happens if students misbehave on a bus; it’s up to the school principal. We’re not trying to change the policy, but we want to draw up more of a specific plan. We feel the punishment is not adequate,” Wilson said. “When you go down the road with 60 kids, and they are fussing and fighting and if there is an accident, then the board of education is not liable, the driver is liable. So we’re liable, but we’re not getting the support we need on the bus. We hope and pray that school board members will take initiative to see what exactly occurs and see firsthand what we’re asking for.”
Wilson is slated to speak on behalf of the county bus operators at the next school board work session to verbally clarify their concerns and answer questions from board members. Action will not be taken at the work session or regular meeting.
“[The school board] challenged me to come up with ways to boost the moral of the transportation department other than financially. I’m anticipating to address the concerns of the drivers and aides about the money, discipline on the bus, and the overall condition of the buses we drive,” he said. “I’m hoping and praying that the 30 percent pay increase will be approved and hoping that everything goes smoothly. I’m hoping Baldwin County will step out and be the icon for what we’re doing and bus driver needs because we are all a team.”
The regular work session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12 at the board office.
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