Loudoun County School Board members told frustrated bus drivers and parents who filed into the board room Tuesday night that their concerns have been heard.
“We are taking this seriously,” School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said after hearing 15 speakers voice complaints about transportation issues.
Most of the speakers were bus drivers who said morale in the Transportation Department has never been so low. They cited a lack of respect and pay that isn’t keeping pace with the rising costs of health benefits.
The school system is short as many as 160 bus drivers. In the past two years, 203 bus drivers, substitute drivers, trainers and attendants have left, according to the school system. In that time, 132 have been hired on.
Annie Grazier, a bus dispatcher, told board members they should not be surprised that so many drivers have left. Changes in how the division’s health insurance options has meant, for those who choose the more expensive of two coverage options, they take home less pay than 10 years ago. Grazier said, while Loudoun bus drivers’ starts at $18.10 an hour, UPS drivers start at $21 an hour, and Old Dominion pays $23 an hour.
“Why would a CDL (commercial drivers license) holder become a school bus driver when they could go drive in the commercial sector,” she asked. “Before you can take care of anything else you need to take care of your personnel.”
At least two speakers read statements from drivers too afraid to speak negatively about the job publically.
Rose later said from the dais that she wants the drivers to feel like they can raise concerns with them. “We want to know.”
The Student Support and Services Committee, which Rose chairs, is working with the Support Services Department to come up with incentives to retrain and recruit drivers and is taking another look at compensation and benefits offered to drivers.
Rose also asked that administrators and teachers remind students to be respectful, not only within the four walls of the school building, but on the bus. “To the drivers she said, “I think you’re earning heavenly gold because that’s a hard job.”
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he’s eager to hear from senior staff what they need to fix the transportation problems. He asked for solutions in the long term, that could be included in next fiscal year’s budget, and in the short term this year. “I think we have some issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later, and they cannot wait until next school year.”
Several parents also addressed the board about the bus rides that, for some students, have reached 90 minutes a day because of the driver shortage. Susana Calley, a Middleburg parent, said solutions cannot wait until next school year.
Board members asked that the public log their complaints and requests at webinter.lcps.org/ConcernRegistry, which will help the staff organize and address the concerns. “I heard over and over again that there’s a communication problem. This helps them address those concerns and get back to you,” Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said. “We want to make sure you know your voices are being heard, by board members and staff.”