School system meets with bus drivers -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

School system meets with bus drivers

October 3, 2007

Albany --  Those bus drivers who walked off the job Friday afternoon, won't be paid for the time they were supposed to be working.

A breakdown in communication is what's being blamed for that transportation nightmare.
Hundreds of Dougherty County students were temporarily stranded at their schools Friday afternoon, when a dozen drivers decided to walk off the job. 

They were upset about a change in pay, that school system administrators admit could have been better explained.
For 23 years, George Carter drove a bus for the Dougherty County School System.  Now retired, he says last week's walk out by drivers should have been handled differently, and he doesn't agree with stranding kids to protest pay. "Me, I wouldn't."

But he understands why a dozen drivers did decide to leave their busses parked. "Hauling children to school, that's a big responsibility," he said.  "They should sit down with them and make sure they understand everything."

"A lot of people do not understand. They do not bring them up to date until something happens.  Then they be talking about it and 'we going to straighten it out.' It should have been more one on one. Let the law handle it, procedure.  But they are frustrated, I understand," said Carter.

But that's apparently where the breakdown began.  Although six meetings were held to inform drivers of changes in the pay system, some of those drivers didn't comprehend how those changes would directly affect them until their paychecks were issued.

"We're changing to a more equitable pay schedule and it probably did not get communicated carefully and thoroughly and so this was sort of a reaction on part of a few," said School Board Member Emily Jean McAfee.

A few people McAfee is disappointed in, for forgetting about the people they are responsible for, the kids. "I want all teachers, and bus drivers and administrative folks to hold the children's safety first.  I mean, let's work out grown up issues between grownups."

And that's what's now taking place.  Each driver will be required to sit down with supervisors for a one-on-one session to make sure they understand the new pay scale and resolve any issues they have.

School Board Member Rev. James Bush said he was "stunned" to see that kids were left stranded. "There was a lot of miscommunication. There was a lot of frustration," said Bush. "I think that there's a responsibility, but I don't want to stand here and start blaming anybody, because I think there's enough blame to go around."

"We're going to get this resolved on behalf of our bus drivers,"  said Superintendent Dr. Sally Whatley. "We are going to move forward, because we are listening to them and we are helping them understand this new system, and if there are changes that need to be made, we're going to make those changes. I'm also confident that what happened last Friday won't happen again."

And better communicate in the future to avoid any other transportation meltdowns.

"It fell in the cracks of misunderstanding and I'm just so sorry that they overreacted at the risk of our children," said McAfee. "Everybody deserves to understand better. I'm real disappointed that we had people who decided not to take children to their homes.  That showed a lack of maturity and a lack of real loyalty to the children of the system. Did it need explaining?  Yes.  I applaud the fact that they are doing that, and working to resolve it."
"The voters in my district are not very sympathetic with the fact that bus drivers took it upon themselves not to take the children home," McAfee said.

In addition to meeting with the drivers one-on-one, group meetings were held yesterday and today.  Also, a committee of about 8-10 drivers will meet with administrators to discuss other issues and concerns.

If drivers didn't work Friday afternoon, they can't claim to have worked those hours. No decision has been made as to how those drivers who did not drive on Friday will be disciplined.