Bus drivers protest outside school offices, demand better pay

Published 2:13 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

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Around 15 Stanly County Schools bus drivers and other classified staff protested outside the school offices on Monday morning, demanding better pay and working conditions, and they plan to make their voices heard during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

As reported by the Stanly News & Press last week, school bus drivers planned for a walkout as they wanted increased pay and better working conditions.

Holding a variety of signs, including “The Future is changing, why isn’t my pay” and “BDM: Bus Drivers Matter,” the drivers showed up early in the morning Monday asking for several concessions from the district, including raising hourly base pay from $13.07 to $16, which would be similar to what drivers in other counties make, and a one-time Covid bonus. Drivers also want bus monitors to be required on all county school buses.

Monday’s protest attracted several television media outlets. Bus drivers in other counties across the state have also recently participated in similar walkouts to demand better pay.

Though the drivers did not report to work Monday or Tuesday, they did not refer to it as a strike, said Kimberly Carpenter, a 23-year veteran who helped organize the proceedings and spoke with the SNAP Tuesday morning. She considered it a peaceful protest.

Bus drivers across three of the four districts took part in the protest Monday and Tuesday, according to Carpenter. Only drivers from the western part of the county did not participate.

The reason for the protest is that bus drivers are exhausted and want to see more recognition from the district, she said.

“We’re all tired of getting walked all over,” Carpenter told the SNAP last week. “We’re all tired of being put on the back burner.”

Carpenter said she and a few other drivers met with Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis on Monday. She said he told them the district would work to get them pay raises and one-time bonuses, but not until after Nov. 17, as the district is currently under audit.

“He kept telling us that he was going to do everything in his power to try and get us a raise and get us some sort of bonus,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter plans to resume her driving duties Wednesday morning, but she doesn’t know what the other drivers will do.

She and the drivers told Dennis that if some sort of resolution is not reached by the end of the year, another potential walkout could occur.

Carpenter said she thinks the school system was not prepared for the reality of a protest, even though she emailed board members and Dennis about the possibility of one last Wednesday.

“I don’t think they truly believed that this would happen,” she said, noting she thought the drivers specifically took Dennis by surprise. “He was not expecting something like this from a rural county.”

While she acknowledges that teachers and other faculty are important, the classified staff also play a critical role in keeping the schools running.

“He needs us,” Carpenter said, referring to Dennis. “He needs us to drive the buses to go pick up the kids. He needs us to drive the buses to take the kids home. He needs the custodians to keep the schools clean. He needs the cafeteria workers to cook the food and to feed the kids.”

Dennis said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon that the school system is working on ways to “recognize and reward our employees for their continued efforts through the pandemic, including salary increases and monetary incentives” though it will take time to develop and will not happen “overnight.”

“Currently, we are experiencing disruptions in transportation that are impacting families, children, and classrooms across the district,” Dennis continued. “We hope that staff will pull together to resolve these disruptions, and provide normality for our students whose education has already been disrupted by the pandemic.  We value all of our employees, and continue to work on ways to recognize their hard work and dedication.”

While many of the drivers were letting their voices be heard outside Stanly County Commons, buses usually manned by Carpenter and her co-workers were left unattended, as parents and students were left to figure out how to get to class with the drivers absent.

Many schools took to social media to get the word out to parents regarding changes in bus schedules.

On the school’s Facebook page, Aquadale Elementary posted Monday morning that four buses did not have a driver for the morning route. The school updated parents throughout the day on the various routes which were running late or still did not have a plan yet.

North Stanly High School also reported on Facebook that three buses would not be running during the afternoon. In an earlier post, the school reported four buses did not run during the morning schedule.

Carpenter understands the walkout has placed a burden upon many parents who rely on the transportation and she feels for them, but she hopes that they at least understand why the protest was needed. She has talked with a few parents who understood where the drivers were coming from and agreed they needed more recognition while others have expressed frustration over the situation.

“I think there are more parents who are with us than against us,” she said.

Additional reporting by Charles Curcio. 

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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