SPS seeks to raise morale of bus drivers

Published 9:39 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Incentives to improve bus driver attendance and morale could play an important role in improving transportation issues facing Suffolk Public Schools, its chief of operations says.

Stemming from a meeting with the Suffolk City School Bus Drivers Association, Kevin Alston’s proposals include prize drawings and stipends to reward drivers for good attendance.

Every nine weeks, according to Alston’s presentation to the School Board’s annual retreat last month, bus drivers with three absences or less would receive between one and five tickets. Those with fewer absences would receive more tickets.

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“They would maybe get a drawing for free Chick-fil-A,” Alston gave as an example, speaking after the retreat. “It would be for prizes we could maybe solicit from the community.”

A stipend was suggested for perfect attendance, Alston said, adding that the board would need to approve any measures.

“I was not given any indication at the July meeting,” he said. “All I did was give the report.”

At previous board meetings, Alston has described the transportation department’s struggle to fill authorized driver positions, and to field enough substitutes to cover high absenteeism.

In October, he reported 24 vacant runs due to vacant bus driver positions and 13 due to drivers on Family and Medical Leave. At least 14 double runs were occurring daily, he said.

In April, he said the district was down “somewhere between 20 and 30 drivers” at the beginning of the school year, which “led to most of the problems.”

Parents have widely reported buses arriving at stops too late in the morning to get children to school on time, and too late to school in the afternoon to get them home at a reasonable hour.

The issues surfaced when a new, staggered schedule was introduced for 2013-2014; responding to concerns, it was changed from the transportation department’s original proposal.

But after a board revision in April that officials hope will solve the problem, students will return to school in the fall on a schedule Alston described as resembling the original cost-saving plan.

Offering incentives to drivers could help make the altered schedule a success, according to Alston.

“I think it could help with attendance,” he said Wednesday. “One of the big problems is having to cover for drivers; our substitute list is exhausted (with) people going out on long-term (leave).

“Hopefully we wouldn’t have to cover as many absent drivers. Next year, with the new plan, there should be drivers built in.”