To the Editor:
Re: Ava R-I school board versus bus drivers
I remember in 1998, when I arrived at the Ava School System as middle school principal how simple things seemed to be within the district. While our professional staff was great to work with, I always enjoyed all the non-certified staff and how they were so dedicated to the students.
On my first day of school there, I went outside to do bus duty with another administrator who told me that Ava’s transportation system was like no other that he had ever seen, but that it worked and should be left alone. I think about that day often as I read the continuing saga of Ava Board versus Bus Drivers.
In my seven years there, hardly any problem arose of a serious nature. The drivers were good at what they did, very few discipline slips were brought in and you could tell that the majority of drivers truly loved their jobs and students. What happened? It started simple: A new board member who thought those old drivers were just making too much money with contracts that paid them as much as $30,000. Forget the fact that they had to pay drivers, buy fuel and keep tires on vehicles that traveled the rough roads of Douglas County and most were lucky to take home enough money to buy the groceries and gas for the month.
I have seen many of the communications between the school and bus drivers. I agree with the drivers in not wanting to pay for GPS systems for their bus. I don’t think they should have to pay for the cost of a dispatcher. These are costs that should be taken care of by the school in their operating budget. It appears the last issue of contention are the cameras that the school would like to put in each bus. According to one of the drivers I spoke with, the school district spent $60,000 on the cameras so it just makes sense they put them in each individual bus. The drivers I spoke with said they didn’t mind having the camera on the bus; they just want an on/off switch to turn it off when their routes are finished. I think this is reasonable. The school will not grant that to the drivers. Currently, when the driver is doing work on a bus on their own time on the weekend, when the key turns on, the camera automatically comes on and stays on for 10 minutes. I agree with the drivers. When they are on their own time, such as weekends, and after that last child is dropped off, drivers have a right to privacy. They are off the clock, so the school has no logical reason that they would need to be able to see the driver.
Maybe the school would argue that drivers would turn off the cameras during the routes and not record what could be important information they would need in settling a discipline issue. That is a valid argument but easily solved. Have every bus driver sign an agreement that if they are ever caught with the camera off during a route, they get to go home and park their bus and are terminated immediately from their contract. I bet the drivers would sign that.
Drivers should also receive assurance from the school that if someone breaks into their bus and damages the camera they will not be held responsible. As mentioned before, I have read many documents written on behalf of the board to the drivers, and also viewed the responses of the drivers. Compromise should be the agent of change, not personal feelings of bitterness that seems to have evolved.
In the past 20 years Ava has declined from approximately 1575 students to currently around 1300, according to DESE. Please do not think it is a knock on any person, because I am not trying to bash anyone and the salaries they make. I am simply saying that Ava’s school board is paying approximately $138,000 for a central office administrator compared to approximately $75,000 in 1998, and there are almost 300 fewer students. I do not blame the central office administrator for taking that amount of money. Every person reading this letter wouldn’t turn down a salary of that amount if it was offered. Yet, bus drivers still make, for the most part, the same basic salaries and benefits they had 20 years ago. In viewing a list of bus drivers and the salaries they draw before and after expenses I had to scratch my head and wonder why anyone would want to drive a bus and have the responsibility they have for chicken scratch. While the routes showed income of mid-$20,000 range to mid-$40,000 range, the amount the drivers take home hardly buy the groceries and pay the light bill.
The drivers are not the “most overpaid and uneducated employees of the district” as they were referred to by one past board member. They are good and decent people that need to be left alone and let do their jobs!
I challenge every person running for school board to make public their feelings on the issue and why they feel that way. They should also state they are willing to end this ridiculous issue that has now dragged on for years.
The Board is currently spending district money now because they are in another lawsuit with the drivers. The board is saying Breach of Contract because drivers will not sign an agreement which stated bus drivers would allow the cameras installed. Your tax dollars are being spent in the legal system instead of on the students of the district.
It has gone on long enough. Six years of fighting and lack of trust on all parties involved is dragging down the school district. This is a problem that needs to be put to rest. I believe this makes every vote important in the upcoming election.
Ava Middle School Principal 1998-2005