The Board of Education has endorsed Superintendent George Arlotto’s plan to add $7.4 million to the school system’s yearly budget, enough to give bus drivers a $5-an-hour raise.
The plan was announced last week in response to a shortage of commercial drivers that has left thousands of students without bus service or with late service during the first month of school. On Oct. 4, drivers working for the contractor Annapolis Bus Company held a strike, calling for fair pay and safe working conditions.
Alrlotto announced a plan to address the lack of drivers last week.
In addition to the proposed $5-an-hour raise, Arlotto wants to use $2.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money to offer $2,000 sign-on and retention bonuses.
The proposal to spend $7.4 million on a recurring basis to increase driver pay will be considered next by the Anne Arundel County Council, which will ultimately decide how much of the proposal to fund. County Executive Steuart Pittman can approve the use of $2.1 million in ARPA money independent of the County Council, the system said in a media release.
Pittman spoke before the Board of Education Monday evening.
“I see this as a proposal to work from,” Pittman said. “It raises the right issues. It talks permanent increases, it talks hiring bonuses and it talks retention bonuses. We have to decide if we can do all three and if those are the right numbers.”
Board President Melissa Ellis said Pittman’s administration will now work with the County Council to see what parts of the proposal make sense. AACPS has been working with his team to do the same for weeks, she said, and by making a public demand last week, Pittman put the school system in a difficult position.
“Now we have numbers out there because a plan was called for. Now there are expectations out there that are tied to specific numbers,” she said.
Everyone, including other employees and contractors, are watching to see how the board, County Council and county executive handle the proposed pay increase.
“My question to you is how can we work together more collaboratively. I’m prepared,” Ellis said to Pittman.
She said she can’t help but wonder if a better outcome would have been issuing a joint statement from Pittman, Arlotto and the board promising action to address the bus situation, which is part of a national crisis.
Pittman said after the meeting that he did not have a timeline for when he will fund or partially fund Arlotto’s request for American Rescue Plan Act money. Pittman said the county’s economic development office is looking at how to best use federal funding tied to COVID to help struggling businesses, and while bus companies will be at the top of the list, consideration needs to be given to the entire package. More stakeholders need to be engaged before a final decision is made, he said.
Ellis said time is of the essence and that she expects Pittman to bring the pay raise proposal to the County Council at its meeting next Monday.
The County Council is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 18, and Annapolis Representative Lisa Rodvien said she hopes the body takes up the $7.4 million supplemental budget proposal urgently. Rodvien, who is also a public school teacher, said if they can’t get kids to school, then hardly anything else they do matters.
Parents need to worry about transportation day after day, and it is stressful, she said.
“The frustration level is really high,” she said.
Arlotto said based on what the council and Pittman approve, the system will then adjust contracts with the various businesses it works with to provide students with transportation to and from schools. For drivers employed by the system, officials will work with the applicable bargaining unit.
How the pay increase is made, be it a dollar-per-hour increase or a commensurate percentage increase to the contractor, will be decided once funding is secured, Arlotto said.
Randall Jubb, owner of Jubb’s Bus Service and Wilson’s Bus Service, said during public comment that he is in complete support of the $5 pay increase for drivers. He said making an increase to the driver pay category on the system’s respective contracts would be preferred over a flat raise for each employee.
“A flat $5 raise would cost contractors more than that to implement by increasing our worker’s comp insurance and federal and social security, since they are all based on our payroll,” he said.