Bus drivers plan ‘sick-out’ on Friday

Published 10:36 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Suffolk Public Schools parents were warned Wednesday evening that they may have to drive their children to school Friday as the school system faces a planned “sick-out” by bus drivers.

“They’re talking about staging a sick-out, because they’re sick and tired,” said Angelo Stone, the president of the Suffolk Bus Drivers’ Association.

Bus drivers have been among the many employees of Suffolk Public Schools pleading for better pay and benefits. The School Board last Tuesday approved a budget that includes small raises for employees, but many feel it will not be enough with rising health insurance costs.

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Employees — including bus drivers, Stone said — are also frustrated with the 14-percent raise included in the budget for Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney. He already received most of that raise after a performance evaluation last fall.

“They were really disappointed they gave that man that kind of money and didn’t give anything to the bus drivers,” Stone said. “They’re fed up with this. The money is going to the top and never came down to the bottom.”

Stone said the drivers plan to make their point on Friday. They hope they’ll see higher wages for drivers and aides, a better retirement plan and health care post-retirement as a result.

About 45 drivers have said they would not be working Friday, according to numbers school division spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw provided Wednesday evening. She was not sure if those were sick days, personal days or leave without pay.

Stone said bus drivers have to be out for three days before they are required to bring a doctor’s note. Bradshaw was unable to confirm that Wednesday evening.

“I have a heart for the parents that are going to have to take their kids to school, but we’re trying to get their help,” Stone said. “We want the parents to stand behind us.”

Stone said there are about 132 bus drivers in the system. So many have already said they won’t work Friday that Transportation Director Keba Baldwin was called back early from a conference, Stone said.

Bradshaw said there is a called bus driver meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday at King’s Fork Middle School to discuss how the system is working on bus driver concerns.

Stone said he expects a threat at that meeting.

“They can’t afford to lose anybody,” he said.

Bradshaw said all substitute drivers and others with the proper license, such as a few athletic coaches, have been called to try to cover routes.

“SPS plans to manage as best we can to get all students to school and back on Friday,” Bradshaw stated in an emailed response to questions.

The message that started going out to parents just before 7 p.m. Wednesday encouraged them to drive their children to school if possible or to wait with them at the bus stop until the bus arrives.