Half of bus drivers absent Friday

Published 10:16 pm Friday, March 31, 2017

Half of Suffolk Public Schools bus drivers and nearly a third of students were absent from work and school Friday following a “sick-out” protest staged by bus drivers in search of higher wages and better benefits.

Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said 68 of the system’s 135 drivers reported to work Friday morning. The other 67 called out.

Suffolk Bus Drivers Association president Angelo Stone was among the drivers who did not show up.

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“It went well,” Stone said.

But, he noted, he had yet to hear anything from the administration as of Friday evening.

“If they don’t call us by the weekend, we’re going to go out again on Monday,” he said. “You’ve got 4,000 kids out of school. It looks like somebody wants to talk about something.”

Facing the mass shortage of bus drivers, the school system canceled 118 routes Thursday night and notified parents on the affected routes. On Friday morning, an additional four routes were canceled. There are 349 routes total.

Parents were encouraged to drive their children to and from school if possible, and elementary schools were open for early drop-off.

But many students still didn’t make it to school.

Nearly a third of Suffolk Public Schools students were absent from school Friday, according to Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw.

She said 4,468 students were absent, compared to the total enrollment of 14,177. That’s about 31.5 percent. All absences on Friday were to be excused.

On the previous four Fridays this month, an average of 874 students were absent.

Many teachers reported on social media that they had classes with as few as one student. Some parents said their students were doing nothing but watching videos, so they went and picked them up from school.

Teacher absences this Friday were comparable to other Fridays this month. About 74 teachers were absent, compared to an average of about 86 the previous four Fridays this month. Last Friday, 102 teachers were absent.

Bradshaw stated that there were no more cafeteria workers absent than usual, but reports on social media indicated there were very few at some schools. Bradshaw said breakfast and lunch service was uninterrupted.

Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney, whose 14-percent raise in the approved budget has come under fire from staff, sent a recorded message to school system staff and parents on Friday evening.

“We realize today has been challenging,” he said. “We are grateful for our entire team who pulled together to make learning a priority.”

“To our dedicated bus drivers who delivered students safely today, thank you for putting our students first,” he continued.

He thanked parents and families and all employees in the message and told staff that the administration is “listening very closely to the concerns that have been raised.”

The bus drivers, who started Friday’s protest, did so after a meeting with school officials failed to assuage their concerns.

Hourly pay for bus drivers currently ranges from $11.71 to $17.79. With the budget approved last week, it would rise to $12 for beginners to $17.96 for more experienced drivers.

Bus drivers have received a raise in all but three of the last 25 years, Bradshaw stated in an email Thursday, including every year since 2012-2013.

But Stone says the only meaningful raise bus drivers have received was in 2011. Other raises were eaten up by retirement contributions and rising health care costs.

“They do more taking from us than they do giving,” Stone said.

Stone said he hopes for some satisfaction soon.

“I hope they make up their mind to come to the table and talk so we can resolve this,” he said.