A day after some bus drivers walked off the job, Orangeburg County School District officials said they failed to tell the drivers about changes that affected their pay.
“We could’ve done a better job in talking with bus drivers before the school year started about all of these situations that we’re changing,” interim Superintendent Dr. Darrell Johnson said.
Bus drivers, for instance, are now paid for the actual time they work. Before Orangeburg County’s three school districts were combined into one, some drivers were paid for estimated length of their route.
About 50 school bus drivers showed up at the district office on Monday to complain about cuts in driver pay and incorrect paychecks. Many went on strike and didn’t pick up students on Monday afternoon, leaving parents scrambling to find rides.
School officials worked to straighten out payroll issues throughout Monday so that routes could resume Tuesday.
Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that he met with bus drivers before the school year started.
“I took questions and this question didn’t come up and it didn’t come up because we could’ve done a better job of informing the bus drivers of the changes,” he said.
The message Johnson had for bus drivers on Tuesday: “Everyone who has worked will be paid, but we will not pay you for the time that you did not work.”
One driver says she’s still awaiting pay.
“We want to be paid properly and on time,” driver Angela Boneparte said on Tuesday morning. She claims the school district hasn’t paid her for eight field trips she worked over the past few months.
Boneparte was among dozens of the district’s bus drivers who wore red T-shirts with the phrase, “I carry important packages” to a meeting with the superintendent on Tuesday morning. They met behind closed doors in the auditorium of Lake Marion High School for two hours.
Some of the drivers took part in the walkout the day before. Other drivers, who did not participate in the walkout, attended to show support for their colleagues.
At the meeting, Johnson told bus drivers, “We erred as a district. We could’ve done a better job” in providing details about salary schedule changes for some bus drivers.
Johnson explained that prior to July 1, when there were three separate school districts in Orangeburg County, some districts paid bus drivers based on “anticipated routes” and not the actual time it took to work those routes.
But the “anticipated routes” can change. For instance, a student may stop riding a bus.
Johnson said bus drivers are now being paid for the actual time they drive the routes, not the anticipated time for the route.
“We cannot be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars to pay you for 40 hours if you’re only driving for 33 or 32,” Johnson said. He noted the drivers will be paid more if their routes take longer than the anticipated time.
“And we pay them 30 minutes pre-check of the bus and 30 minutes post-check of the bus,” he said.
Johnson said the district is working to install electronic systems for each of the buses that drivers will use to clock in and record their actual time spent driving the routes.
For the buses without timeclocks, drivers are manually submitting timesheets to their supervisors for calculation.
“There were some glitches with data being put into the computers in the finance department,” Johnson said.
“Some of it was kicked out, some hours were inaccurate and that’s where our backup was,” Johnson said.
“We’re a new district,” he said. “We’ve had other people whose checks were not accurate – even my first check I didn’t receive.”
He said, “We are a new district. Those are called growing pains. My pledge to the bus drivers, if they drove those buses, if they were working, they will be compensated for the time that they were working, but we’re not paying them for the time that they anticipated work that they did not work.”
Johnson said that any employee who notices discrepancies in their paychecks is asked to contact the district office so that he and the finance director can meet with the employee to correct the matter.
After the meeting, bus driver Kimberly Cross said while she’s noticed a difference of 20 cents in her paychecks, some of her colleagues are seeing larger decreases. Cross did not participate in Monday’s walkout, but she attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Cross not only drives a school bus, but she works as an aide inside of a school too.
“Last year, we got two separate pays. We got a bus pay and we got an aide pay if we were an assistant. So this year, they gave us one pay across the board, so whatever our bus pay was, we could see and whatever our aide pay was, it showed the amount of what we got paid for, therefore, we knew about every two weeks how much our check was going to be,” she said.
She wishes the payment system had remained the same for a few years.
“That way if there were any kinks or anything that needed to be worked out, they had enough time to work them out,” she said.
Bus driver David Brown said being a bus driver is more than just sitting behind the wheel.
“We just want to be compensated for all that we do. We’re bus drivers. We’re public officials just like everybody else,” he said.
“We’re out here day, night, rain, cold, hot, taking kids to and from school, stopping fights and different things. We want to be compensated for all that we do,” he added.