The Spotsylvania County School Board voted unanimously Monday evening to establish a Transportation Task Force under Superintendent Scott Baker to study ways to improve bus driver pay and work conditions.
Two School Board members will serve on the task force and each member will be able to designate a representative to the task force. The task force will make recommendations directly to the School Board.
At least 40 Spotsylvania County school bus drivers attended Monday’s regular School Board meeting to voice their concerns, which include low pay and the fact that veteran drivers now make little more than new drivers. The starting pay for drivers in Spotsylvania is $17.21 an hour.
The drivers also said many of them are not being given their contracted five hours a day and feel they are not being heard or supported when there are discipline issues on the bus.
Susan Rolka, a bus driver who raises her two grandchildren alone, said she works a second job in addition to driving a bus—meaning her work day starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m.—and is still “one paycheck away from being homeless.”
She said she has perfect attendance as a bus driver because she needs the bonus money that is given for perfect attendance, but still must keep the heat in her mobile home at 65 degrees, put her grandchildren on a list to receive Christmas gifts and stock up on 99–cent kids meals from Sonic each week to feed them.
“There are several [drivers] out there with similar stories,” Rolka said. “We need more money and we deserve it. We aren’t just drivers, we are mentors, teachers, confidantes and friends, too. We still must keep these precious children safe. Help us keep doing the jobs we love with a little less stress. Find the funds to pay us more.”
Rose Miller, a substitute bus driver, said that on an average day, 15 to 30 drivers out of the fleet of more than 300 are absent.
“Every day we are 10 percent short and that does not include long-term leave or open runs,” Miller said. “We can’t do it. We can’t do 3, 4, 5 runs and cover for two different drivers.”
Miller said problems go beyond salary.
“It’s the politics that go on. And that’s not even all of it. It’s the [lack of] support and not feeling safe on our buses,” Miller said. “We have children who threaten us. And you know what happens in the school when we say something? Nothing.”
Bethany Kern, another bus driver, said drivers have been afraid to speak out about their frustrations, “because of what it might do to us or because we might not be able to get this or that.”
“Others are treated better than we [are] because they are pets of transportation,” she said. “It’s not right and it’s not fair. We all need to be treated the same way.”
Board members said they are committed to hearing and helping the bus drivers.
“We have to take care of our own right here,” said Lee Hill District representative Lisa Phelps, who made the motion to form a transportation task force.
Board Chairman and Battlefield District representative Baron Braswell said there needs to be “a change in our approach to understanding how we take care of our support staff.”
“I don’t know all the answers yet,” he said. “I don’t think any of us do. To say so would be foolhardy. But I know we have to do something, and I’m committed to figuring out how we can put you in a better place. So I promise you I’ll do my level best as a board member to advocate for your case and your cause.”