SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) school bus drivers continued a protest Tuesday morning.
Dozens of drivers are speaking up against the district’s handling of health and safety when it comes to transportation.
“Let me say this directly to the community. None of this is geared to the children. None of this is geared towards making things uncomfortable for the community,” said bus driver Kendrick Banks. “We are standing because some of the same issues we talked about when the board first took over five or six years ago are some of the same ones we are still dealing with now.”
For the second time in less than a week, drivers called out of work, causing delays for some morning routes. SCCPSS notified parents that in total, 45 drivers were out Tuesday and delays could be expected.
“SCCPSS apologizes for the disruption the absence of these drivers may have caused to certain routes,” a statement from the district reads. “The district continues to work to maximize all available resources to ensure on-time arrivals.”
WSAV was on site for dismissal at Mercer Middle School Tuesday afternoon, where traffic seemed to be running smoothly. A parent said dismissal times had been staggered to prevent any backups.
Students were first released around 2:20 p.m., and by 3 p.m., most buses had departed.
SCCPSS says staff members who have clearance to drive are helping to cover affected routes.
The district released a statement Tuesday night addressing some of the bus drivers’ concerns. SCCPSS says some of these concerns are new and others have been previously addressed.
SCCPSS continues work to overcome staffing issues among bus drivers that created transportation delays on Friday, September 3, 3021 and again today. An already understaffed department has been hindered by dozens of drivers unexpectedly calling out. Some of those drivers have protested outside our Gamble Road maintenance facility, speaking out regarding concerns over pay, retirement, and work conditions.
As a government agency, Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools is precluded from negotiating with a union or any other employee group. However, the district is always willing to listen to concerns brought by employees to administrators through the appropriate channels. Some of the concerns being publicly brought forward by drivers in the past week have not previously been brought to administration in an official capacity.
Pay has been brought up as an issue in various ways dating back to 2016 and each time the District has considered concerns. The district has taken specific steps to assist drivers multiple times since 2016, in addition to annual cost of living and step increases that every employee of the district receives.
In 2016, all drivers had their pay grade increased by two steps, giving drivers a $2 to $3 per hour raise. Additionally, some drivers have been transitioned from five hour per day shifts to 8 hours per day. This past June, at the end of the previous fiscal year, the district changed the way in which years of experience were calculated from a 5 to 1, to a 2 to 1 formula which gave most drivers a four or five step increase and a significant raise based on those years of experience.
In addition, though each district employee received two retention supplements over the past school year related to the COVID pandemic, SCCPSS bus drivers received an additional retention supplement of $500 just last week that was not provided to other district employees.
COVID-related safety concerns have also been voiced by drivers. Complaints that contact tracing is not being done for bus riders/drivers are not true. The contact tracing process is conducted the same among bus riders/drivers as it is among students in the classroom. Close contacts are reached out to and required to quarantine based on bus seating charts and viewing video from buses to ensure those within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more are identified.
In addition, masks are required to be worn on district transportation. A student’s bus riding privileges may be suspended or revoked for non-compliance with the mask requirement. There are a limited number of students with disabilities who are permitted to ride without a mask as an accommodation.
Concerns about overcrowded buses are investigated as soon as a complaint is received. One complaint was received in late August. It was looked into, but the bus was not found to be overcrowded. There have been some buses running closer to capacity due to a driver shortage and splitting loads of students where possible. That is a situation that should continue to improve as more drivers become available. The district already has four more drivers working than we started the school year with and seven more scheduled to complete training and begin driving this month.
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System has approximately 5600 employees. The district must take all employees into consideration when making decisions on best practices. SCCPSS apologizes for the disruption the absence of these drivers may have caused to certain routes. The district continues to work to maximize all available resources to ensure on time arrivals.