The Union Recorder

February 12, 2013

School bus operators discuss concerns

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Bus operators and aides within the Baldwin County public school district’s transportation department urged the school board to consider making changes to department employee wages, implementing incentives and creating a specific student code of conduct for bus misbehavior before the fiscal year 2014 budget is set.

“The bus drivers and aides came together and we’re asking you for a 30 percent pay raise,” said David Wilson, bus operator, on behalf of the 45 drivers and aides present at Monday’s regular work session. “In talking to a lot of the drivers that have been here for a while and some for less time, there are some drivers who, according to the formula, is not up to par; their pay is not where it’s supposed to be. There are a lot of aides that have been here for years and their pay is just not where it’s supposed to be. We’re asking that you address this as a board.”

Nearly 70 school bus operators and aides within the local school district’s transportation department provided the school board with a letter of concern in November which addressed their concerns. A committee made up of drivers and aides was formed, and they went before School Superintendent Geneva Braziel after the December regular meeting to discuss the letter. The school board officially addressed the letter during the January work session.

Saranna Charping, chief financial officer for the school system, explained the pay rate formula of a bus operator depending on the number of years worked to help transportation personnel grasp a better understanding Monday evening. Based on Baldwin County experience, a driver working four years or less earns $10,564 yearly or $14.67 per hour on a four-hour shift. The base state salary is $8,752.

“Anybody who has concerns, we will go through the formula with you so that you have a clear understanding of your personal [pay rate],” Braziel said. “We will schedule a time to make sure drivers understand their pay.”

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.

“Right now for all other special routes, like field trips, drivers get paid $9.14 per hour,” Wilson said. “We also like you to take into consideration extra pay for routes that are longer and some routes that are challenging.”

Wilson also shared a list of possible employee incentives as a way to boost moral within the department, including fair labor practices, employee trips, education or tuition reimbursement, health club reimbursement, a bonus for less than 90 percent of time missed from work, a county bus rodeo, and pay for monthly meetings and other required attendance in addition to regular route time.

“We need discounts toward cell phone bills, accessible restrooms after the route, ID badges with pictures to identify who we are, and personalized log books to save money on copies of paperwork needed throughout the year,” Wilson said. “We need bus driver handbook in black and white with regulations explaining student consequences because everything we go by is word of mouth from [Transportation Director Donald Tuft].”

In response, board member Harold Simmons, District 2, said the restroom, ID badge and log book issues are good ideas and can easily be dealt with.

“I do like the ID badge idea because it’s a security issue and it’s good for people to know you work for the school system. The bus driver handbook concerns me; we need to work on that and know what parameters as bus drivers can and cannot do,” he said. “I do believe bus drivers are an asset to this school district and we’re not overlooking you. We appreciate what you do, and we’re going to do the best we can to get some of these things you desire.”

Board Chair John Jackson, District 4, said a system-wide notification will be sent to inform all personnel about the availability of a 15 percent discount with area cell phone carriers.

To handle student discipline issues taking place on school buses, a committee, including Wilson, will come up with protocols and procedures to follow.

“There are kids that ride one bus and then start riding another bus. There is no roster or checklist to keep track of these kids,” Wilson said. “It goes back to having an efficient administration.”

Wilson also explained the need for the state and county to help with the cost of employee insurance.

“The state decided to no longer pay for insurance benefits for classified employees. The cost of local tax payers in each school system continues to rise; this year we’re short of $5,200 ... and the school system has to pick up the cost,” Charping said. “Every employee has a cost, but everybody is the same depending on what coverage they pick.”

The school board unanimously agreed to have a written response to all of the concerns discussed Monday within 30 days.

“As I look at the incentives, I think you’ve come up with some great ideas,” Jackson said. “We thank everybody in this room for showing their support and your voice is being heard.”

The school board will convene at 5:30 p.m. today at the board office for their regular meeting.

“We’re hoping and praying that the school board heard our voice and will not dismiss us,” Wilson said after the meeting. “I hope they make sure to give us what we need so this job will be attractive for someone between the age of 25 and 45, and not 70 year-old who is retired and already has another form of income.”

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