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Drivers’ pay concerns school board members

BRADENTON -- More than 40 bus drivers came to Monday’s Manatee County School Board meeting to say enough is enough.

They said they aren’t getting their full pay. One driver said the district owes her for 20 hours of unpaid work, accumulated since August.

Another added that the drivers don’t like new regulations that force them to leave a kindergartner on a road alone, even if the child’s parent is not present. Three people spoke on behalf of the drivers during the public comments portion of the board meeting.

“I used to love to go to work,” 11-year bus driver Judith Compston said to school board members. “But I’m getting to where I hate it.”

The sources of many of the problems, Compston said, is a new computer system and leadership of the transportation department.

“There are people losing their houses who aren’t getting paid,” Compston said. “Our paychecks are never the same. We go to the office to find out what’s going on. We (see) a do-not disturb sign on the door.”

Bus drivers first spoke out about their pay being shorted due to a new computer system last year to their union officials, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Union president Bruce Mohr was one of the three who spoke on behalf of the drivers.

“We have a serious problem with the pay issues. We (also) have a lot of concerns with a lot of procedures,” Mohr said.

One of those procedures is a new regulation that allows a kindergartner to be left alone on a road. That policy was written up in a recent transportation newsletter.

Compston said, “These kids walk past sexual predators’ houses everyday.”

Her comment drew concern from school board member Barbara Harvey. “As of tomorrow,” Harvey said, “I do not want a kindergartner left by the road.”

Bus drivers applauded Harvey’s comment.

When the drivers were chided for applauding, a few of the drivers offered a loud “We’re sorry.”

Several school board members expressed concerned about the drivers’ complaints.

School board member Julie Aranibar said, “Someone’s not doing something right.”

School Superintendent Tim McGonegal quietly said, “I know.”

Harvey said, “The old bus drivers told me we’ve never had these problems before.”

McGonegal replied, “This stare right here without blinking tells you I have a problem with this.”

Board vice chairman Harry Kinnan said, “The first contact with all of our students are the Manatee County bus drivers.”

He said seeing this many “of our fine bus drivers” caused him concern.

McGonegal assured board members that the issue would be worked out. However, that is what bus drivers were told when the pay issue was originally reported in the Bradenton Herald in December.

School officials said then the back-pay issues would be resolved by Jan. 10. Compston said the computer was down Monday.

“Of all the days for the computer to be down,” she said.

Union vice president Bill Braselton told board members, “You’ve heard it. You’ve read it. We’ve seen it. There has to be some better answers. This is no way to run a business.”