School bus drivers stay home in droves


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 12:30 a.m.

A rift between Alachua County school bus drivers and administrators has left the district's students caught on the soggy side of the road.

On Thursday, 36 drivers did not report for work, and one Friday, 34 stayed home. That forced administrators to pick up some of the 164 routes normally covered by the 182 drivers employed by the district.

And some drivers said the situation may only get worse because they feel administrators are ignoring their concerns.

"More of us are going to be staying out," said a driver who reported for work both days, but asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. "We're not getting any backing at all, from transportation, or from the schools. It's not fun anymore. I love the children, but I've already put in for a transfer. We're all demoralized and disenchanted."

In the state of Florida, it is illegal for state employees to strike. Alachua County Education Association field representative Sande Calkins said she does not believe the sick-out is organized.

"I think it's an indication of the morale and I truly don't think it's organized," Calkins said. "Everyone knows they can't do that and they don't want to hurt the kids. Those drivers are so darn loyal and care so much about the kids, that's what keeps transportation going."

District transportation Operations Manager David Deas said his office is doing what it can to deal with employees' frustrations, but seemed exasperated and at a loss for answers.

"We're just going to have to deal with it," Deas said. "Nine of the office staff were out (driving) during this morning, and if necessary they will be driving again. I think it's morale in general with the School Board. It's not only the bus drivers, it's the teachers as well. We do everything we can to help the drivers. They're here to do a job and are here to earn a paycheck."

Some drivers have complained about inconsistent management and a lack of training opportunities such as how to deal with combative children. They said a recent overhaul in the bus routes, completed this year to save about $400,000, has left many drivers frustrated.

"They could bust up a lot of the routes they have now and it would work a lot better," said another driver who wished to remain anonymous.

Calkins said she understands both sides of the issue, particularly the lack of funds that forced the overhaul of bus routes.

"Nobody likes change and bus drivers have been through a long haul to get some improvements," Calkins said. "There's a lot of bus drivers who think they're talked down to. They have a very frustrating job and most of the routes are so hard to deal with. It's a thankless job."

With the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test beginning on Monday, district officials have warned principals that buses may continue to be late.

"We're alerting them that everyone in transportation who can drive a bus is on alert and ready to drive," said Bill Cliett, deputy superintendent for instruction and curriculum. "They need to be aware of possible late buses and make provisions for those students."

Such provisions include makeup days for the FCAT, which determines individual school grades, which are scheduled for Thursday and Friday over the next two weeks.

Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@gvillesun.com

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