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Orangeburg County School District bus drivers could get more options to increase their work hours under a draft plan being considered by district officials.

The district formed a committee to look at the issue after about 70 drivers walked off the job last month due to a change in bus driver compensation under the newly formed district.

"The team did come to a consensus on a plan that we would like to put in place that will allow our drivers, our single-position bus drivers only, to work toward more regular hours and also qualify for benefits," District Chief of Human Resources Ernest Holiday said.

"This plan allows us to be flexible and it also allows options for our bus drivers. Those options would include needs we have in place or needs that our district has in order to serve students,” he said.

The plan is the product of meeting held Oct. 14 about driver pay. It included six drivers representing all areas of the county, district transportation supervisors, principals and human resources, finance and auxiliary services representatives.

"There are other districts across the state that have tackled and are tackling what we are trying to tackle as it pertains to bus drivers," Holiday said.

The district will use the plan implemented by Richland County School District 1 as a basis for its plan.

“Richland 1, along with many other districts around the state, allow bus drivers to complete other jobs, in addition to their driving duties, in order to work 30 hours each week,” OCSD Chief of Staff Dr. Jesse Washington said in an email. Reaching the 30-hour threshold allows drivers to qualify for benefits not available if they worked fewer than 30 hours per week.

Chief of Auxiliary Services Robert Grant said a draft plan has been created and will be reviewed in the coming days with input from impacted parties. Specifics of the OCSD proposal were not disclosed at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Bus driver pay became an issue because the new school district is paying drivers for actual time spent driving a bus. Before Orangeburg County’s three school districts were combined into one in July, some drivers were paid for the estimated length of their route based on GPS calculations.

The change was not communicated to the bus drivers, causing many to go on strike and leaving parents scrambling on Sept. 30 to find rides for their children.

Payroll issues were also related to computer glitches in the system.

The district says it has taken steps to ensure the errors do not occur in the future.

In other matters:

• Grant said another HVAC line broke at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on Oct. 21.

"It was pretty severe," Grant said. "A lot of water flooded into the building and affected a large number of classrooms."

Grant said the repair of the unit is complete, though the cleanup is not. About eight to ten classrooms were impacted by break as well as office space.

This is the latest in a number of issues with the HVAC unit at the high school. The district has spent about $27,000 in repair and cleanup related to the unit since August.

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The district plans to upgrade the entire system in the near future.

Grant said two five-ton HVAC units had to be shut down at Holly Hill-Roberts Middle School due to rusting in the casing, which caused water leaks.

About six classrooms were impacted. The units will cost about $20,000 to replace.

The district just replaced the roof on the school for about $1.3 million and spent about $30,000 on the school's gym floor due to water damage, Grant said.

An HVAC unit at Edisto High School was also shut down due to leaks and is being repaired.

Grant said the district is looking to spend about $5,000 on safety cut-off switches on all the district's HVAC units that tie into school gyms in order to prevent leakage and floor damage.

After about a 50-minute closed session, trustees unanimously approved funding the completion of the HVAC design work for O-W and the roof design work for O-W, William J. Clark Middle School and Robert E. Howard Middle School. The price was not immediately provided by district officials.

The contract for the projects was approved last year by the Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 board with Charleston-based AAG Architects.

Once the design work is done, the projects will be bid out and presented to the S.C. Department of Education's Office of School Facilities.

• Former Lockett Elementary School principal Robert Eubanks and current Principal Dr. Glenda Westbury were recognized by the board because the Branchville school achieved Palmetto Gold status.

The Palmetto Gold award recognized the school for its academic achievement and student progress for the 2018-2019 school year. The school received a certificate and a flag as well as a standing ovation for its accomplishment.

• Trustees unanimously approved hiring six employees -- three special education teachers, two school counselors and one physical education teacher.

• Trustees gave first reading to a school district policy related to the community's use of school facilities.

A fee and application schedule will be created using the policy as a guide. The policy is going through the approval process due to the high number of requests from various community organizations to use the facilities.

• District Chief of Special Services Dr. Liana Calloway gave an overview of the district's special services department, noting the district has 64 individuals in the department including 27 nurses and ten mental health counselors.

Overall, there are 1,980 students with disabilities in the district served by 94 teachers.

• District Chief of Instructional Services Dr. Lana Williams reported the district has a total of 17 Title I schools with large concentrations of low-income students. The schools receive supplemental funds to assist in meeting students’ educational goals.

Williams said the district has requested the schools prepare a plan to improve their designations.

• Board Vice Chairwoman Betty Pelzer and Secretary Idella Carson will be representing the district at the S.C. School Boards Association legislative advocacy conference in Charleston in December. The alternate will be trustee Mary Ulmer.

• Audits of the three former school districts are under way and will be completed by Dec. 2. The audits will be presented to the school board during its December meeting.

• The next meeting of the school board will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12 on the second floor of 102 Founders Court. The meeting will be a work session. The next regularly scheduled meeting will be held Nov. 19.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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