Bus drivers donned yellow shirts in solidarity and voiced concerns about their treatment at a DeKalb County School Board meeting Sept. 10.
Cathy Douglas, a bus driver who works for the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) addressed the board during the meeting and accused board members and officials of “looking down their noses” at bus drivers.
“They see us as lower-echelon, inferior, unskilled employees who should be happy for the crumbs tossed to us,” Douglas said.
Douglas said bus drivers and cafeteria workers deserved the same benefits other district employees receive such as health, retirement and Social Security benefits, and 401K participation. She also accused the Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE) of not representing her best interests, although she paid her dues to the advocacy organization.
Joel Edwards, co-founder of watchdog organization WORC, said he and DeKalb NAACP President John Evans have been receiving complaints from bus drivers ranging from problems with their pay to allegations that supervisors had been “fudging” their time sheets.
“The time that they put on the time sheet was being rounded off,” Edwards said. “A lot of the supervisors didn’t want them to work over 40 hours, so what the supervisors did was, if [the drivers] worked 42 hours they would just scratch the two hours off so they wouldn’t have to pay them overtime.”
Edwards also said drivers were concerned about the lack of bus monitors especially for children with special needs.
“They are a safety net for the bus operators for the special needs children. The bus driver cannot monitor the kids on the bus and drive the bus at the same time,” Edwards said. He said if the school district didn’t address their concerns it would be up for the bus drivers to decide what to do but that forming a union or their own organization is a possibility.
However, ODE President David Schutten said that it’s against the law to have a “real” union in a public school system in Georgia. Schutten also said that allegations about ODE not representing the interests of bus drivers aren’t true.
“They get represented just like everybody else,” Schutten said. He said bus drivers make up only 8 percent of ODE’s membership so it isn’t possible for the organization to spend as much time working with them as other groups such as teachers. Schutten also said the ODE only represents 30 percent of DCSD bus drivers overall.
Schutten said the ODE recently fought to stop the school board from eliminating the health subsidy for all employees, which the board still decided to cut, and ODE representatives have met with chief operating officer Stephen Wilkins and planning director Daniel Drake to address some of the bus drivers’ concerns.
“A lot of the things they’re complaining about have already been dealt with,” Schutten said.
DCSD spokesman Jeff Dickerson said the district understands the frustrations of bus drivers and cafeteria workers but noted there were many who had sacrificed more, including employees who had lost their jobs when the district cut hundreds of central office staff earlier this year.
“My understanding is that there have been fewer opportunities for overtime for bus drivers because of fewer field trips, so that type of thing has not been available,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson agreed that the district can’t do its job without cafeteria workers and bus drivers and they’re an integral part in educating DeKalb County’s children. However, Dickerson said the district and Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is focused on diverting as many resources available directly toward classroom instruction.
“That’s how we’re going to impact and address student achievement,” Dickerson said. “Having done that I think the district is open and amenable to discussions on how to do more for cafeteria workers and bus drivers.”