About 50 school bus drivers made their presence known at Wednesday night’s Prince William County Public School Board meeting. Seven of the drivers voiced complaints about new payroll procedures, long routes, added responsibilities and what they perceive as a lack of respect from some parents, students and staff members.
The outcry prompted School Board members to vow to look into the issues for resolutions.
“I would be very upset if there was any hint of retaliation against any of the people who came out tonight,” said School Board Vice Chairman Milton Johns.
Several of the bus drivers who spoke during citizen comment time said that drivers’ complaints have fallen on deaf ears in the transportation department, which oversees about 660 drivers.
“The department seems intent on finding a paper trail for reprimands and violations and they have never found a molehill that cannot be turned into a mountain,” said bus driver H.G. Smittenaar.
Specific issues brought forth included a new policy that mandates that drivers must now pump their own diesel fuel, a policy that has placed an additional burden on some older, female drivers, according to some.
“The dipstick on a bus is 4 feet tall. The engines are hot. You can’t reach in the back of the engine without burning yourself,” said Josette Harris, bus driver and chair of the Prince William County School Bus Council.
Harris also said that a new payroll system, which scans standardized time sheets that are similar to school test score sheets, has caused many drivers to be shortchanged in their paychecks. She also has taken issue with the mandatory submission of social security numbers on the daily timesheets and not being provided copies of timesheets.
Harris said that the transportation department has been unresponsive to drivers’ concerns, but she is confident that the School Board will not follow suit.
“They stood up for us, which really made the drivers that were still there very happy,” said Harris.
Supervisor of Transportation Edward Bishop and Supervisor of Benefits Sue Taylor said that some of the drivers’ issues have already been addressed as simply a matter of school division policy for all employees.
Responding to the claim that drivers are being charged more for insurance premiums, Taylor said they are charged more per paycheck than some other employees because they have fewer pay periods, but the amount is about the same over a year.
A teacher enrolled in an HMO insurance plan, for example, would pay $8.27 per paycheck over 24 pay periods, according to Taylor. A bus driver would pay $10.45 over 19 pay periods. The difference amounts to 7 cents, $198.48 versus $198.55.
Bus drivers are being held to the same standard as other school division employees in reference to annual leave, according to Bishop. Bus drivers, who are allowed 11 sick days, two personal leave days and one day of restricted leave, are not year-round employees, and therefore are not allowed to take annual leave.
“It’s expected that they will do their recreational travel in the summer when they’re not at work or during one of the many school vacations throughout the year,” said Bishop.
The transportation department will continue to address bus drivers’ concerns, such as a driver having to provide proof of an extended family member’s death if he or she has requested leave to attend the funeral, according to Bishop.
“I don’t know if that’s a good practice or not and we will examine whether that’s the right thing to do,” said Bishop.