Insurance, sick days restored to Carroll County school bus drivers

By David Broyles -

An increase in Average Daily Membership (ADM) gave the Carroll County School Board a chance to make “the wheels on the bus go round and round” better with restoration of insurance and sick days to all bus drivers. The decision was made official at the board’s regular September 11 meeting.

“Three years ago we lost these benefits and none of us on this board wanted that. We warned (a shortage of drivers) would happen with that $1.8 million cut and the reduction in staff we had to take,” Board Chair Brian Spencer said. “It feels very comfortable to me to act on this. We made a pledge back in May. At that time in May we didn’t have the money in the budget. It was set. We were hoping to have 3,600 students and we had to repair a roof and finish a financial commitment to buy buses – we had to buy three to get five. Our numbers are solid now. This bump in the financials will allow us to do insurance for the 17 positions and give five sick days for the year.”

Spencer said he had earlier met with both Transportation Manager David Kinzer and Superintendent Dr. Shirley Perry about extending the offer to the drivers. He said Kinzer felt this would also be an incentive to fill driver position which are open. Board Clerk/Finance Officer Tammy Quesenberry said the calculations assumed all drivers would take out a single policy at an estimated total cost (for a 10-month period since the fiscal year is underway) of $122,000 to the school district. The cost of five paid sick days was estimated to be an additional $7,000 (the value of the sick days and fringe benefit cost paid by the District).

Spencer said future School Board budget committees would be including this going forward, even if ADM were to decrease, treating it as a long-term benefit. He praised the support of the Board of Supervisors and said he felt they approved of the action. Vice Chair Joey Haynes offered the motion to provide insurance benefits and five sick leave days a year to drivers. Olen Gallimore seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. (A section of the auditorium occupied by drivers and their families erupted in applause and cheers.)

Spencer said this was the first time since he had been on the board where an increase in enrollment was so evenly spread out across the county they didn’t have to hire an additional teacher, which typically offsets the income from the gain of a student. Quesenberry told the board ADM for Carroll has been trending down for the past few years but they were anticipating enrollment to be stable for the next five years.

“We’ve been talking for the last couple of months, and reviewing the benefits for our bus drivers and reviewing the final budget from the state, which came on June 7, compared to the budget we adopted and the Board of Supervisors adopted in May,” said Quesenberry. “We have been very fortunate in that we are tracking upward on our Average Daily Membership (ADM). We budgeted 3,600 and the August ADM is 3,626. We will have to make some adjustments for early graduates and we will still have some fluctuation of that number but we feel very good on what we budgeted and what’s coming in.”

She said in addition to more revenue from higher ADM, the division also received more money through the supplemental lottery allocation than anticipated. Haynes said, “Nobody ever wanted this to happen. It was just economics in the past.” He said he appreciated everyone being willing to work together to make this happen.

“I’m just so grateful our numbers came in and we did make the commitment. It is kind of ironic we are here (in the Carroll County High Auditorium) because it was here in May the request was first made,” said Spencer to the drivers present. “We told you when we could look at this with some certainty, we would do something.”

Spencer pointed out that in 2015 the Federal Government’s Obamacare push showing predicted employees under 30 hours a week financially would be better off than going with company programs. He said that was another driving force for Board members who made the decision years ago.

“Again, I come to you as a citizen who is also on the Board of Supervisors. I came to you 60 days ago at the July meeting concerning the issue with bus drivers. To start with, I am very excited about the steps you’ve taken tonight to help solve this problem. We still have work to do,” said Supervisor Joe Webb during public comment time. “I want to assure you that, while I can’t speak for the rest of the Supervisors, I myself will work with you. I want to fix this problem. I want this to be the best county to get a public education in. Thank you so much for what you did tonight. It is a milestone. I look forward to continue working with this board to solve problems as a Board of Supervisor member.”

David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave

By David Broyles