Commissioners Opt Not To Adjust Pay Further For School Bus Drivers

Commissioners Opt Not To Adjust Pay Further For School Bus Drivers
Bus contractors approached the commissioners earlier this spring advocating for increased pay. A motion to supplement their pay failed Tuesday with a 3-4 vote. File photo

SNOW HILL– Bus drivers will not receive the pay increase they asked for from Worcester County.

A motion to increase mileage and hourly pay rates for local school bus contractors failed with a 3-4 vote during a budget work session held by the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday. Commissioner Ted Elder, a retired bus driver, advocated for a slight increase for bus contractors but failed to get enough support from his peers.

“Next year you’re going to have an issue with people getting to school and I’ll be the one to say I told you so,” Elder said.

Representatives of the Worcester County School Bus Contactors Association (WCSBCA) approached both the school board and the commissioners this spring advocating for a pay increase. While the school system’s budget includes some increases for bus drivers, WCSBCA representatives said those increases weren’t enough to cover rapidly rising costs. They asked the commissioners to consider bumping their hourly rate to $26.29 and their mileage rate to $1.80.

At Tuesday’s budget work session, Elder proposed using roughly $135,000 from the county’s general fund to supplement the $25/hour and $1.62/mile the school system plans to pay drivers. He said the additional funds would allow for an hourly rate of $26 and mileage of $1.65. He said the increase, though not what was requested by contractors, was something and would help combat rising expenses.

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Commissioner Jim Bunting said it was the school board’s job to negotiate a contract with bus drivers.

“What I’ve proposed is just barely enough to get them by,” Elder said.

Commissioner Diana Purnell pointed out that during the budget process, county departments proposed numerous cuts while the school system had not. She added that teachers would be earning $40/hour for summer school and that bus drivers had a legitimate argument.

Bunting said the county would create a bad situation if it got involved in negotiations that were really the school system’s responsibility. He said the bus drivers had gotten an increase this year even if it wasn’t at the level requested.

“Maybe they should be a little patient and get there in the next couple budgets,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said his concern was that if the commissioners adjusted bus contractors’ pay, they might get requests from other school system employees that were in low paying positions.

“I don’t want all of the cafeteria workers from the school board sitting down here saying they don’t make enough money,” Mitrecic said. “I don’t want the janitors coming down here. My personal opinion is I think we let the board of education deal with their employees. If they start losing employees, losing bus drivers, then they’re going to have to make the adjustment.”

He added that school board members were elected just like the county commissioners.

“Whether they go along with the finance man down there and the superintendent and go along blindly or not, I can’t say that one way or the other,” Mitrecic said. “But I do know that they’re elected to represent the people of Worcester County the same as we are.”

Elder’s motion to supplement bus drivers’ pay failed with a 3-4 vote. Elder, Purnell and Commissioner Josh Nordstrom voted in support while Bunting, Mitrecic and Commissioners Bud Church and Chip Bertino were opposed.

Longtime bus contractor Alan Hudson, a member of the WCSBCA budget committee, said that without the funding requested, drivers would struggle to meet expenses and as a result would likely not be able to afford to do the short trips for things like sports and field trips. He thanked Elder, Nordstrom and Purnell for their support.

“Our main objective everyday is to transport the students of this county as safely as we possibly can,” he said. “We are simply asking for a fair reimbursement for the services we provide. As everyone knows, the cost of doing business has drastically increased. Fuel costs alone have skyrocketed and very few people realize not only are we responsible for purchasing our own fuel but we also cover all maintenance costs for our buses. For the majority of bus contractors, what our gross pay is versus what we actually get to keep to live on is a huge difference.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.