ROGERSVILLE — A committee of Hawkins County school officials proposed Tuesday to increase bus drivers’ daily pay by $10 over the next four years on top of a $3 increase already proposed, as well as offer $750 in annual performance incentives and address other driver grievances.
However, with the school system facing a $3.3 million revenue deficit in its proposed 2018-19 budget, that plan might be hard to sell to the full Board of Education when it meets next month.
Earlier this month, a petition signed by about 70 school bus drivers outlining several grievances and asking for a substantial pay increase was submitted to Transportation Director Clifford Bunch.
The BOE has already proposed to increase bus driver pay by $3 per day in 2018-19, which changes the daily starting pay from $57 to $60. That $3 increases spending in the 2018-19 budget by $58,000.
The bus drivers requested another $15, which would set their pay range from $75 to $95 per day and cost approximately $276,000 more annually.
How did the BOE respond to the petition?
During the June 7 BOE meeting, Chairman Bob Larkins appointed a transportation subcommittee to address the bus drivers’ requests.
That panel was led by board member Chris Christian and also included board members Jackie Charles and Tecky Hicks, as well interim school director Reba Bailey, technology supervisor Adrian Smith, Bunch, and bus driver spokesman Darrell Lawson.
About 20 bus drivers attended the subcommittee’s first meeting Tuesday evening where Lawson laid out their problems, which aren’t exclusively related to pay.
“It’s a hassle out there with those kids and their discipline problems,” he said. “We need to start teaching these kids how to act and conduct themselves on the school bus and get the backing from the board and the principal. I’m not saying you haven’t, but we need stronger backing. We need to be treated like bus drivers and not like somebody you picked up off the street. None of the bus drivers think anybody respects them in the system.”
Lawson added, “People who are doing this for a living can’t make a living. You can’t live under $60 (per day). You can’t live under $70 (per day). We’re just asking for a fair wage so they can live and enjoy life like anybody else.”
There’s also still a bus driver shortage
The BOE is anxious to resolve its issues with the drivers. There are 90 school bus routes in Hawkins County, and Bunch said he is about 10 drivers short for the upcoming school year.
On top of that, he has multiple drivers who are contemplating retirement, and he believes if their pay and other grievances aren’t addressed, that’s the path they’ll take, leaving the district needing even more drivers.
Bunch attended Tuesday’s meeting, but Friday is his last day on the job, as he has accepted the transportation director position for the Oak Ridge school system.
He said due to the shortage, he drove a bus all last year, as did his shop foreman, two mechanics and another staff member.
What’s the proposed pay increase?
Following a lengthy discussion Tuesday, Christian made a proposal to offer bus drivers an additional $5 per day next year, and then build it up an additional $5 per day in increments over the next three years.
Including the $3 raise already proposed in the budget, there would be an overall $13 per day increase for all bus drivers after four years, or a pay range of $70-$90.
On top of that, the proposal calls for bus driver incentive pay in the amount of $250 every 60 school days, three times per year, for meeting certain criteria such as perfect attendance and attending all safety meetings.
There was no dollar figure attached to that proposal, and that’s something that will be calculated by the time the proposal comes before the full BOE for consideration.
“Our teachers can’t teach if the students aren’t here,” Christian told the drivers. “If the students aren’t here, we can’t meet attendance requirements. We can’t get funding through the BEP program.”
Christian added, “I don’t know if it will be approved, but if it is, I’m hoping you bus drivers will latch onto that and say, ‘OK, we’re going to do what we need to do.’ ”
For the most part, drivers who attended Tuesday’s meeting were in agreement with the pay compromise. Their main concern was not making the criteria for the performance incentive pay too hard to meet.
Addressing other bus driver grievances
The Submcommittee also made several recommendations to the full BOE regarding the bus driver grievances.
Grievance No. 1: When student behavior issues arise, some principals don’t support bus drivers when they suggest that disciplinary actions take place. There are also ancillary issues such as students missing the bus after school and drivers having to come back and get them.
Proposed solution: Work with principals, central office and bus drivers to develop a student education program teaching them what is expected of them on a school bus regarding behavior, safety and punctuality.
Grievance No. 2: Teachers and other certified employees who earn their CDL and become bus drivers receive credit for their teaching experience on the bus driver salary scale, but bus drivers with experience in other districts don’t receive credit for their experience.
Proposed solution: Bus drivers will receive credit for all documented bus driving experience on the salary scale when the next fiscal year starts. It cannot be done in the current fiscal year because it hasn’t been budgeted.
Grievance No. 3: Retirees who are barred from working full time based on the rules of their pension but still drive school buses full time are considered part-time employees and are placed on the lower substitute bus driver salary scale.
Proposed solution: Assuming it’s not prohibited by law, recommend that any retired person who drives full time, but is technically considered part time, receive full-time benefits and pay based on their years of experience.
Grievance No. 4: Full-time employees at various schools such as teaching assistants, custodians, etc., become certified bus drivers and drive students on field trips and sporting events, eliminating a source of extra income for bus drivers.
Proposed solution: Although it is the choice of each individual principal, give full-time drivers first right of refusal on extra driving jobs.