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11/14/19 ABSS schools need bus drivers

ABSS schools need bus drivers
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 11/14/19    
Reprinted with permission.
      
The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education was not sold on a possible solution to the district’s shortage of bus drivers, especially the part about hiring three new mangers.

“You’re going to have to put the money where it’s needed in order for people to be able to live,” board member Patsy Simpson said at the meeting Tuesday, Nov. 11. “As opposed to having these administrator positions to recruit — we have an HR department to recruit.”

The district is short about 20 drivers on any given day, Assistant Superintendent Todd Thorpe said, out of about 150 bus routes. Eight to 12 of those routes have no dedicated driver.

Right now a lot of the responsibility of recruiting and wrangling bus drivers — calling them up and making sure they come in — falls on assistant principals, who have a lot of other responsibilities.

The idea board members didn’t particularly like was to hire three area managers to work with school front offices and drivers, make sure students are assigned to the right routes, make sure drivers aren’t missing stops, and substitute drivers find out where they are supposed to be. If all else fails, they drive a bus. That would cost $130,000.

Things like a $500 signing bonus for new bus drivers, ABSS Finance Director Jeremy Teetor said, drew only one person, who was already with ABSS, when piloted, and a $50-permonth perfect attendance bonus, that also hasn’t made a huge difference so far.

“The people who came to work before are still coming to work. The ones who were not are still not coming to work,” Teetor said

The big problem is that driving a bus is a part-time job, and there are lots of jobs out there.

“If you work for us, and you drive a bus for 20 hours a week, you’re not getting the full benefits package. You need to work 30 hours a week in order to qualify for the state health plan,” Teetor said. “And that seems to be a big deal.”

Expense


The way to get drivers onto benefits, Teetor said, is to advertise positions like custodians, cafeteria workers and teachers assistants as combination jobs that include driving bus routes.

In the Western High School zone there is a program doing that has been in place for more than a year. It uses a mix of split positions and just bus drivers and a pool of people who can substitute. ABSS piloted it there because it’s a fairly small zone, but it seems to be working.

“We still have an issue out there occasionally, but we do have drivers for those routes on a regular basis,” Thorpe said.

There is a problem, though.

“It’s a very expensive process to do this,” Thorpe said.

Simpson suggested cutting back on the district’s custodial contract and hiring more of its own custodians, who would also be bus drivers and full-time employees. Continuing to have a better system in one zone than the rest of the district is unfair.

“It needs to end, or it needs to be expanded,” Simpson said.

Thorpe said there is another year and a half on the school’s custodial contract, so it’s a good time to look at that idea.

Audit


The district’s annual audit came back clean again this year. One place where costs went up was lunch trays. The district switched from Styrofoam trays to compostable paper trays, contributing to an increase in supply costs of about $346,000.

“Those plates were a lot more expensive than the Styrofoam,” said Dale Smith, auditor with Anderson, Smith and Wike.

While the fund is in “very, very good shape,” Smith said, overall, ABSS’ Child Nutrition Program lost about $195,000 last year, in part because food costs increased about $135,000, and personnel costs also increased, but the biggest shift was the trays.

The previous year, Child Nutrition actually made a profit of close to $392,000, a change of about $588,000.

Other costs also went up like two new cargo vans sometimes used to deliver food to places like Ray Street Academy that don’t have their own cafeterias, and some other vehicles that won’t be seen in next year’s budget.

The district also had to bring the cash balance down some, Teetor said, because the program had more cash on hand last year than permitted under state rules.

“We’ll watch one more year, and if it’s still not doable, we’ll revisit the plates,” Teetor said.