Carroll County Public Schools staff agreed to prioritize revisions to the transportation reimbursement formula that would put more money in bus drivers’ pockets. The changes would also double the usual increase in the transportation budget for fiscal year 2023.
The latest revision of the formula, stemming from a fiscal 2019 audit, was a big concern for contractors. The formula’s per vehicle allotment, or PVA, was not substantial enough to keep some drivers in business, according to Dianne Grote, president of Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association.
Meeting documents state the PVA left “little profit margin allowing for the contractor’s long-term viability.” And contractors have made it known “they will not be able to continue to stay in this business under the current business model.”
Grote said at the Wednesday school board meeting that the PVA has regressed to a 2011 allotment, the field trip buses receive no PVA and there was no income for those buses from March to December 2020 when students were learning virtually.
She added that 29 daily regular route buses, six paid spares and 10 of the athletic/field trip buses will be going out of service this school year, unless the funding will be available for them to continue.
In response to concerns expressed by drivers and attendants, the superintendent directed staff to meet with the contractors to examine and revise the formula. Both school staff and bus contractors agreed on the importance of retaining bus drivers, especially through a national shortage.
Jon O’Neal, chief operating officer, explained the committee’s revision recommendations, which include an increase of contract guaranteed minimums; converting all new buses from 2021-2022 to the new PVA formula; including a 10-year engine and emissions warranty in PVA; reimbursing tax, tags and title costs at time of vehicle purchase; and establishing a 3% minimum increase to annual salary. Drivers are paid $23.83 an hour while assistants receive $17.70.
The proposed revisions would add $1.5 million to the fiscal 2023 budget. That’s about double the average annual percentage increase
Board President Marsha Herbert was vocal in her support of the drivers and the proposed revisions.
“They can go and jump ship any time and make a heck of a lot more money per hour driving a dump truck or tractor-trailer,” she said. “We need to make sure these guys are getting paid.”
She said the board and school system need to do better and that she wouldn’t blame drivers if they chose to leave.
Board member Donna Sivigny said she agreed with Herbert. “But we’re at the mercy of the commissioners,” she said, adding that it’s hard to guarantee the funding, but suggested the issue be placed on the commissioners’ agenda for a joint session.
The revision recommendations were not an action item. However, Sivigny recommended the revisions be a key priority when the board discusses the fiscal 2023 budget. The rest of the board agreed.