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McGonegal irons out bus drivers’ issues

BRADENTON -- Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal met with Transportation Director Terry Palmer Tuesday in an effort to iron out nonpayment and safety issues school bus drivers have raised.

Drivers say they aren’t receiving full pay for hours worked. But the district says they are. Drivers also are concerned about a reversal in policy that forces them to drop off kindergartners and first-graders without a parent being present -- which, they say, is a significant safety issue.

McGonegal told the Herald he spoke with Palmer about why the policy was changed without the district’s knowledge. Bus drivers said the policy was changed in August. The reasoning behind the change was to ensure buses ran on time, Palmer told McGonegal Tuesday.

McGonegal told Palmer he wants the old policy brought back.

“If (the parent’s) not there, they should keep their kids on the bus,” McGonegal said. “Sometimes they make a loop and come back. Other times, they’ll have to take the child back to school and put them in after-school day care.”

The parent will be notified if that happens, he said.

But if there is an agreement between the bus driver and the parent, the child can be left at the stop unattended, McGonegal said. Bus drivers are expected to communicate with parents to determine if they want their childre to be dropped off without supervision, McGonegal said.

As for the pay, Jim Drake, assistant superintendent of finance, said he thinks bus drivers are confused about the new pay system. Drivers are being encouraged to individually come in to have their pay stubs explained to them. If there is any back pay, Drake said it would be made up by Jan. 25. Drake also sat in on the meeting with McGonegal and Palmer Tuesday.

Bus drivers are looking at their pay stubs and seeing that they are being contracted to work for a minimum of six hours per day. The computer doles out pay equivalent to that time. If drivers work beyond that basic contract, additional dollars are added.

Bus driver Linda Cumpston spoke on behalf of bus drivers at Monday night’s school board meeting. She said those dollars aren’t being added, declaring, “We’re getting cheated.”

Cumpston, union Vice President Bill Braselton and President Bruce Mohr said some drivers didn’t get a paycheck at all.

Palmer did not return phone calls for comment.

In the future, district officials plan to train bus drivers on how to understand the new pay stubs, Drake said. The six-hour contracts also will be extended, he said.