Letter to the Editor: Valuing school bus drivers

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Dear Editor:

The purpose of this letter is to draw public attention and awareness statewide to a travesty concerning a profession that should command better wages. Some states, cities, and counties are much more equitable than others, however, some officials need to be held accountable for the inequity they allow and perpetuate. For instance, in 2016, our Drivers were told they were “fourth from the bottom in pay” out of 67 counties. Unfortunately, we just learned last week we are now 65th out of 67 counties. Why?
Our drivers are not given the respect, appreciation or wages that they earn:
(1) to accept the dangers, risks, and responsibilities associated with operating a busload of students ranging in ages for K-12th grades and
(2) to safely provide a tremendous community service while being grossly underpaid. Many drivers have been misled into believing that we should be thankful, content, and silent because we are eligible for insurance benefits. That, my friends, is a travesty.
A driver’s pay should never be predicated on insurance benefits. Whether a driver is maneuvering beside eighteen wheelers and speeding cars on an interstate highway through a metropolitan city, or is meeting log trucks, loaded dump trucks, with cars and pick-up trucks constantly passing us on narrow county roads, the patience, skill, ability and know how is synonymous. Statewide, driver’s job descriptions are identical for operating a bus, no wider than 102 inches and a maximum length of 45 feet. Since drivers’ job descriptions are the same statewide, all drivers should start at a base wage that is not discriminatory, county by county. Since we are available to drive across state lines for field trips, athletic events, band trips, club trips, trade school shuttles, in addition to our regular morning and afternoon routes (at least 360 trips each school year), we should all start at a minimum base wage of $50.00 per trip for the regular routes as a full time driver, period. Since the regular routes in my county are completed within 15 minutes of each other, there should not be the discrepancy, created by paying us based upon short ($7,238.00), medium ($8,918.00) or long routes ($12,273.00). This practice should be stopped immediately.
Another fallacy is related to how the state or county determines a drivers pay when drivers become full-time employees in the middle of the school year. Since the majority of our county’s drivers drive as substitutes without benefits until an opening becomes available, taking any one of the above routes as an example, when a driver reaches full-time status, his or her pay should be the annual amount budgeted above divided by twelve months. Our central office blames the state for how they calculate this fallacy, since most drivers drive to work twice each day, expenses like $.10 per gallon gas tax increases affect us more than the general public. When we need to retain an attorney for one hour, that often charges more than we gross in a week or have surgery with out-of-pocket cost that are more than our annual income, we need help from the public and officials in our long fight for equitable wages.
If you agree, please contact your local, national, and state officials, and let them know how thankful you are, for the men and women who have been unselfishly serving you and your children as drivers and you believe they should earn better wages.
Your concern, support and help will be very much appreciated, and I would love to hear your comments and opinions (pro or con) in response to this letter. In the meantime,
I will keep providing a much-needed community service, to the best of my ability, and with love for your children.

Sincerely,
John D. Ford
Tallapoosa County

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