DeKalb school bus drivers’ concerns: raises, retirement, respect

DeKalb County has more than 1,000 school bus routes and about 800 school bus drivers.

Combined ShapeCaption
DeKalb County has more than 1,000 school bus routes and about 800 school bus drivers.

DeKalb County school bus drivers spent more than a half hour voicing continued frustration with what they see as a class system in the school district food chain that constantly discounts them.

Drivers, one-by-one during Monday’s public comment part of the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting, requested a retirement plan, step raises and more concern for their treatment by student passengers and parents. Drivers union leader Sheila Bennett said drivers often feel left out, watching as other district employees get guaranteed raises and bonuses.

“On Aug. 4, you had the drivers drop the teachers to the Gwinnett (Infinite Energy Center) arena to a pep rally that we weren’t even invited to,” Bennett said. “You made a statement in The AJC that you wanted this event to unify the DeKalb Schools family.

“Do you treat your family like this?”

It wasn't the first time unhappy drivers have come to the school board. In 2015 they complained about a pay proposal to give a raise to teachers but not not drivers.

Superintendent Steve Green has offered mid-year and annual raises to all staffers several times since he arrived in 2015. Teachers, though, received raises at least twice when other staffers did not.

He said he was unaware of the state of drivers’ retirement program. It’s something he’ll be looking into, he said.

“I have to learn more about (the retirement program) and what it means,” he said. “We’re committed to take steps to put us on the paths to (correct) any disparities we see. I recognize the drivers and their commitment to our children. I recognize their jobs are tough.”

DeKalb has more than 1,000 school bus routes and about 800 drivers. They often work split shifts, and some begin as early as 4 a.m. to pick up students for class, then return buses to the district’s depot as late as 7 p.m.

Bennett said her drivers often contend with unruly students they’ve written up but the disciplinary records never make it to students’ files. A driver was recently reassigned to a new school because the school administration did not like the high number of write-ups the driver submitted on children, she said.

“Trying to get help from administration at some schools is a joke,” driver Carshena Hall said.

Hall, who spoke during Monday’s meeting, said she’s been confronted by five parents since the school year began. Often, it’s over students who misbehave on the bus.

“It makes you not want to talk to parents because you don’t know if they’re going to be receptive or irate,” she said. “I believe someone’s going to get hurt, eventually.”

A driver for 13 years, Hall said she’s looking for work outside her department as she starts thinking more about retirement. A fellow driver who died in the fall had been on the job 47 years. She didn’t have a retirement plan, which kept her working.

“I’ve got to think about my own future,” Hall said. “I love what I do, but the benefits and incentive have been stripped.”