1/27/16 School board nixes bus driver duty proposal

School board nixes bus driver duty proposal
Plan would have required custodians, cafeteria workers to alleviate shortage
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 1/27/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

The Alamance-Burlington School System will look for other ways to fill its bus-driver shortage than requiring cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and custodians to be licensed and willing to drive a bus.

“Why don’t we go back to the drawing board?” Superintendent Bill Harrison said. “Let’s pull this one and see if we can’t come up with another solution; if we don’t think we can, we’ll revisit this again.”

Members of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education had too many concerns about a proposed “duty to drive a school bus” policy, under which new “classified” employees would have to sign a bus-driving agreement and receive a limited time after hiring to get bus-driving licenses to keep their jobs.

Several board members said it could keep talented people out of ABSS schools.

“People have different skills,” board member Tony Rose said.”My mom taught for her whole career in our school system, and students loved her, and teachers loved her, and parents loved her, but if she’s driving the school bus, my kid’s not on it—bless her heart.”

The district had a policy like this years ago, Rose said, and principals working back then told him it was “a nightmare” logistically since they had to decide which employee would take a pay cut for a couple of hours to drive a bus, and which job didn’t get done while that bus was on the road.

The district raised driver pay to $11.61 per hour this year, which retained some drivers, Assistant Superintendent Todd Thorpe said, but was not a great recruiting tool. The shortage is five full-time drivers, but it is a lack of substitutes that causes the real problems.

Some drivers have had to run two routes in the morning, which gets some students to school late, causing them to miss breakfast and even class.

“There’s disadvantages of every policy,” Thorpe said. “I’m focused on getting our students to school on time and getting them home.”

Rose said it was an important problem, and the board should look at raising pay again.

“Let’s look at all the counties surrounding us and figure out what bus-driver pay is, and instead of us being the lower-paying, let’s be the higher-paying,” Rose said. “Let’s raise the pay and market these positions and see what happens.”

Board member Jackie Cole asked the administration to look at incentives for employees to drive buses.