BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Monroe County school board members hadn’t even heard the proposal on bus driver wage increases before arguments escalated between drivers and community members.
The tense debate spilled out into the parking lot outside the administration building where the public hearing that heavily featured the busing controversy had just wrapped up.
“We are concerned as parents,” said one of the many parents who spoke Tuesday night. “Our children are frightened."
On the first day of school, MCCSC officials say Auxilio only provided 18 of 42 drivers and only a few of the 42 buses. Even those buses, they said, didn’t meet the corporation’s safety standards.
“A deacon at my church, he was still concerned that he could not get his child’s bus driver to pick his child up consistently,” said a community member and former Brown County teacher. “Now that’s on August 20 and we’re still talking about problems of pickup and safety.”
Despite issuing a 30-day notice to Auxilio last week formally notifying them of the breach of contract, school spokesperson Andrew Clampitt reiterated nothing has changed on that end. The bus tracking app and text messaging service, which went down the morning of the first day of school, are back up but that still isn’t enough to solve the issue of a driver shortage and resulting doubled-up routes.
“First of all I’d like to apologize to our tremendous community for the transportation problems that have evolved the first day of school,” said superintendent Dr. Judith Demuth. “The first classroom many of our children experience is the bus.”
But right now, the school says Auxilio is still not meeting its contracted number of drivers and buses.
In a phone call before the meeting, president Ed Dollin apologized for brushing off a CBS4 crew Monday who tried to ask questions after dozens of unreturned calls. He also disputed the school's claims about their contract, which Auxilio drivers repeated during the hearing.
School officials say the fact that driving supervisors and maintenance technicians certified to drive are having to take on routes assigned to Auxilio is proof the company isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
Auxilio drivers said regardless, they don’t feel like they’re completely to blame for the problems and hopes the community stops blaming them individually.
While the board can’t immediately mend community relations, they are hoping the approved higher wages will work as a “Plan B” of sorts to help improve recruitment and retention of bus drivers.
Corporation drivers will now make between $17 and $20 an hour, depending on experience. It works out to a raise of $1.40 to $4.19 an hour.
Even if the salary bump does work as school administration hopes, Tuesday night’s meeting makes it clear the hard feelings created by the busing controversy won’t go away soon.
Many community members at the meeting say just recruiting more bus drivers isn’t good enough. They feel long-time contract drivers who lost their jobs when Auxilio won the contracts should be brought back to the table.
“Do whatever it takes to get the contract drivers who served you faithfully for decades and were your best employees,” implored one man of the board. “Do what you can to get them on the job.”