For the last six days, Carol Gorsuch of Manchester has had to figure out how to get her two children to class at Manchester Valley High School. They would normally ride a bus, but a shortage of drivers has led to the Carroll County Public Schools canceling certain routes.
“I don’t have a ride for my children for school unless I provide it. … Is this going to be something that is going to continue throughout the school year?” Gorsuch said. “It’s a bizarre situation.”
The shortage of bus drivers for schools primarily in the northern part of the county is due to COVID-related quarantines at F&S Transportation, one of the contractors that works with the school system, said Michael Hardesty, director of transportation for CCPS.
“... The pandemic has not helped with the overall shortage of school bus drivers in Carroll County and across the country,” Hardesty said. “We are hopeful that the current situation affecting F&S will be improving later this week and into next week.”
A letter sent to families on Sunday said that school buses on routes for Manchester Valley High School, North Carroll Middle School, Shiloh Middle School, Manchester Elementary School and Ebb Valley Elementary School were impacted.
“We apologize for this inconvenience and continue to work with our contractors to find other substitute drivers or rerouting solutions. … In the meantime we wanted to inform you this evening so that you may consider transporting your child to school,” the letter said.
In addition to COVID-related staffing issues, Dianne Grote, president of the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association, said some county school bus drivers have talked about potentially planning a “sickout” to protest for higher pay — something that has occurred in the Howard County public school system, when several bus drivers called out sick in November.
“I was made aware that there are some school bus drivers that are organizing a possible strike; however, I have made it very clear to everyone, including that group, that I am not in favor of a sickout or strike,” Grote said.
The association has been meeting with Carroll County school administrators since April to address school bus driver wages. A potential strike could jeopardize the association’s partnership with the school system and have a negative impact on students, parents, employees and businesses, Grote said.
The Carroll County Board of Education will hold its regular monthly meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, at the Board of Education offices, 125 N. Court St., Westminster. Meetings are streamed live on the school system website (www.carrollk12.org). Public comment is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. Speakers will be allowed three minutes to address the board.
Jon O’Neal, chief of operations for the school system, said that funding for school bus drivers may be talked about during the meeting. As of Tuesday, bus driver funding was not listed on the agenda.
CCPS pays bus contractors for each of their bus routes through a transportation reimbursement formula, which is approved by the school board each year, he said.
“The way in which we reimburse the contractors is through a detailed formula that has different component parts and it adds up to total amount that we reimburse a bus contractor — we reimburse them on a bus- route-by-bus-route basis,” O’Neal said.
Several Carroll County school bus contractors and drivers have previously requested higher pay, while advocating for benefits. According to Grote, CCPS pays contractors $23.83 per hour per bus driver and each contractor pays its bus drivers on a varied scale.
Drivers are actually paid as high as $19.86 per hour and as low as $14.75 per hour, Grote said.
“[$23.83 per hour] includes fixed costs that cover all the additional employer’s expenses on payroll,” Grote said.
In November, the school board approved bonuses for bus drivers and attendants. The bonuses were to recognize the services drivers have provided throughout the pandemic, O’Neal said.
“Drivers were given $1,000 and attendants were given $500,” O’Neal said.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more detailed information from the president of the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association on the per-hour pay for CCPS bus drivers.