MILLEDGEVILLE — The Baldwin County Board of Education voted 4-1 to deny a 30 percent salary increase for bus operators and aides of the transportation department during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Board member Harold Simmons of District 2 made a motion to raise bus driver pay by 15 percent instead, but the vote did not pass amongst the rest of the board.
“These people have already given hours and hours for years, bringing kids to schools safely, honestly and religiously everyday, and they haven’t had a raise. They haven’t asked for anything since I’ve been on this board for the past eight or nine years,” Simmons said during Monday’s work session. “If 15 to 20 drivers decide they’re not going to drive, then we’re in a fix. Who’s going to pick these children up? These drivers need something for what they do.”
In response, school board Chair John Noah Jackson of District 4 said the pay increase would realistically and logically not be feasible for the school system.
“We’ve had to cut teachers’ pay with furlough days, health insurance cost is going up, school services isn't getting an increase, and the maintenance department doesn’t get an increase; it’s just bad all the way around,” he said. “We did research with surrounding counties and we’re in line on the high end.”
Based on Baldwin County experience, a driver working four years or less earns $14.67 per hour on a four-hour shift. With a 30 percent increase, drivers would earn a total hourly pay of $19.07. The difference in employee pay would increase the school system’s deficit by $275,000 on top of the already $2.5 million shortfall.
“I understand why they want the raise, but I’m not comfortable that we have a firm hold on our budget and what we’re going to do going forward in the next few years,” said board member Lyn Chandler of District 3. “Once you put this in place, there’s no going back next year and cutting.”
The school system’s Chief Financial Officer Saranna Charping said the school district is about $400,000 away from balancing the budget.
The transportation employees also requested a pay increase for driving school buses on field trips and extra runs with pay starting at a minimum of $14.67 per hour. The school board, except Simmons and board member Dr. Gloria Wicker of District 1, voted to maintain the current pay of $9.14 per hour. The change of rate would cost the system an additional $107,000 per year.
“Any driver that goes over four hours on their regular route will be compensated,” School Superintendent Geneva Braziel said. “We will use time sheets or time clocks. We’re consulting with attorneys to figure out what will be more feasible.”
Excluding regular monthly meetings, drivers and aides will now receive compensation of $9.14 per hour for attending mandated training in addition to regular route time each school year, including state, CPR, wheelchair and diabetic.
As possible employee incentives to boost moral within the department, the school board will explore bonus options for individuals.
The school board is working on finalizing a driver handbook to outline protocols, installing a keypad outside the training room at the bus garage to provide restroom accessibility, issuing a three-ring binder for personalized log books, and will coordinate with employees to receive their picture ID badges.
“At the end of all this, I want this to be a good thing for the school system,” Jackson said. “They should rightly feel like they’re a big part of the school system. They are very valuable and we’re doing what we can to fix it.”
In other business, the board:
• heard a presentation on student and stakeholder engagement from Midway Elementary School;
• heard a presentation from Relay for Life Chair Pam Tindal on 100 percent school participation in Relay for Life;
• approved a bus request for the Baldwin County Recreation Department’s summer camp program in May; and
• approved to allow Braziel to explore options for disposing the Carver property.
The school board was also recognized as part of School Board Appreciation Week with goodies and certificates from each school and the board office.
The board is slated to next meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9 at the board office.
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