NEWARK– School board members defended their decision not to change the budget to address bus driver pay concerns this week.
During Tuesday’s Worcester County Board of Education meeting, school board members reviewed bus driver compensation. They stressed that while they appreciated the work contractors did, the drivers were already paid fairly.
“When you look at the fact that we’re the best paying school system on the Eastern Shore and we’re third in the state I think that says a lot about how we feel about our bus contractors,” said Todd Ferrante, vice president of the school board.
Representatives of the Worcester County School Bus Contactors Association (WCSBCA) approached both the school board and the Worcester County 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. Despite the pleas, neither the school system nor the commissioners adjusted compensation levels beyond what was included in the board of education budget. An effort by Commissioner Ted Elder to bump the rates slightly failed during a county budget work session last week with a 3-4 vote.
School board member Bill Buchanan asked staff at Tuesday’s meeting to review and clarify the fuel supplement paid to bus drivers when prices at the pump went up.
“I’ve got a lot of my constituents that are asking about this,” Buchanan said.
Vince Tolbert, the school system’s chief financial officer, explained that each year the school system set a base amount for fuel. Any time fuel goes 10% above that rate, the mileage reimbursement for bus contractors is adjusted.
“This year that base amount is $3.35,” Tolbert said. “So 10% above $3.35 is $3.68. So for this year, once the average price of diesel fuel rose above $3.68 the bus drivers received a fuel supplement.”
In February, he said they received an additional 3 cents per gallon. In March, they received an additional 14 cents a gallon and in April they received an additional 17 cents. He said if fuel prices stayed where they were now the mileage rate would be adjusted by 32 cents for May. So instead of the $1.60 they currently receive per mile, bus contractors will likely receive $1.92 per mile for the month of May.
“That was put into place to protect our bus drivers, to make sure they weren’t harmed by huge increases in fuel,” Tolbert said. “And I believe it shows that it’s working.”
Ferrante said there was misinformation in the community regarding bus driver pay rates.
“I want everybody to know we value our bus contractors, we appreciate them delivering our students to and from school safely every day,” he said.
Ferrante said the school system showed that appreciation by paying bus drivers even when schools were closed during the pandemic. He added that the coming year’s budget increased drivers’ hourly rates from $22.50 to $25. The budget also increases their administration fee, their per vehicle allotment and their mileage rate, which will go from $1.60 to $1.62.
“The average bus runs about 100 miles a day so that’s about $162 per day to cover some of these costs,” he said.
Ferrante said that in developing the increases, school system staff had reviewed bus contractor rates throughout the Eastern Shore and Maryland. He said Worcester County Public Schools’ bus contractors were the best paid on the Eastern Shore and the third best paid in the state.
“This board has done everything possible to make sure that we’ve given our bus contractors a fair and extremely just package,” he said.