Interim Superintendent Dr. Ben Williams has been asked by the Board of Education to formally review two policies impacting Johnston County school bus drivers. The request follows recent complaints about both controversial school board policies.
Bus drivers are among the lowest paid employees in the school system. Driving a school bus can be difficult, especially in subdivisions and narrow city streets.
Under an existing policy, if a bus driver strikes a mailbox, Johnston County Schools requires the driver to pay the first $200 of the replacement cost of the mailbox out of their own pocket. If the cost is over $200, the school system will pay for the remainder of the bill.
The policy came to light when school board member Ronald Johnson was approached by a bus driver about having to pay for a mailbox. Johnson wrote a personal check to Johnston County Schools to cover the entire cost for the bus driver.
“Bus drivers and classified staff do so much for this school system and are extremely underpaid,” Mr. Johnson said. “These protocols set them up for failure by taking money out of their pockets. It is a ridiculous system, and a prime example of policy failure in our county. It is a practice that punishes the employees who are on the front line working with students and make the least amount of money. We constantly say we don’t pay enough, but expect bus drivers to pay out of pocket for something that happens in the course of their duties. It needs to change, and I am confident the board will change this policy.”
NC DOT Physical Exams
A second policy, forces employees to take time off work to obtain a NC DOT physical exam, a requirement to operate a school bus. The policy prohibits an employee from being paid for that time.
Board member Teresa Grant said she was contacted recently by a driver upset about both policies. “I’m very thankful that a teacher assistant / bus driver reached out to let me know about the mailbox replacement fee and the time off for DOT physicals. Since we are not involved in the day to day operations, there could be things like this that we would not know about, unless someone brought it to our attention. I am not sure how long these practices have been in place, but they are wrong in my opinion and should be corrected as soon as possible. While we cannot fix the past, we should certainly be able to fix the future.”
Asked about bus drivers who have had to pay up to $200 for mailbox replacements this school year and whether the drivers should be reimbursed, Grant stated, ” I hope we can at least take care of any fees and time off that occurred during this school year, and going forward. Additionally, I encourage staff to speak up when they believe a practice is not right, as their voices are important and need to be heard. Besides, every change for good, no matter how big or small, brings us one step closer to a better school system.”
Chairman Todd Sutton requested Dr. Williams investigate both policies and report back to the school board as soon as possible.