Free chicken won’t help

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, July 10, 2014

Perhaps the most generous thing that can be said of a proposed plan to address transportation problems in the city’s school system — at least in part — by rewarding low absenteeism with Chick-fil-A gift cards is that we’re not opposed to it.

It’s hard, after all, to oppose any plan aimed at improving the morale of a group of people so directly in control of the safety of so many Suffolk children every day of the school year. And it’s hard to find a group with such good reasons to be demoralized.

School bus drivers with the Suffolk Public School system had a tough school year. A new bell system that split the day into a confusing array of start and end times for elementary, middle and high school students failed miserably, right out of the gate, and things took a long time to get much better.


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With bleary-eyed 7-year-olds getting onto their buses, in some cases, before the sun came up, and the same students sometimes being delivered back home after dinner, the whole plan was a disaster, and bus drivers were on the front lines of dealing with angry parents.

But it soon became clear that drivers weren’t to blame. The problem was that the razor-thin margins of the transportation plan that was put into place in order to save the school system money did not allow much wiggle room for things like absenteeism and unfilled positions.

To make matters worse, the unfilled positions proved hard to fill for a system that could find enough money to offer raises of only 1.5 percent this year after several years of giving their employees nothing but more work.

Let’s face it: Driving a school bus is not a glamorous job, and it’s not the kind of work for which most folks could find the patience. Add to those factors the low pay associated with the job, and it’s not hard to imagine the school system found those positions hard to fill.

So it’s nice that school administrators are looking for ways to improve the morale of those who continue to do what must be one of the most stressful jobs in the school system. What’s much harder to understand, though, is how administrators think a free chicken sandwich every now and then will make much difference.

As has been widely documented with another set of important school system employees — teachers — there’s a huge morale problem among faculty and staff of Suffolk Public Schools. Though free sandwiches and perfect-attendance certificates might be good tools for maintaining the morale of people who are already proud and happy to work where they do, such gimmicks will do little to stem the tide of departures in a place where people already feel disrespected and disenchanted.