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Sumter School District Transportation Study Committee meets for 1st time

Driver shortage ID'd as top issue facing department

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 1/24/20

A lack of bus drivers is the biggest issue on the table it appears facing Sumter School Board's special transportation study committee.

The three trustees serving on the board's Transportation Study Ad Hoc Committee met Tuesday night for the …

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Sumter School District Transportation Study Committee meets for 1st time

Driver shortage ID'd as top issue facing department

Posted

A lack of bus drivers is the biggest issue on the table it appears facing Sumter School Board's special transportation study committee.

The three trustees serving on the board's Transportation Study Ad Hoc Committee met Tuesday night for the first time with district administrators and discussed various topics, but recruitment and retention of drivers seemed to take central focus.

The district's lead area supervisor for drivers, Brian Jones, told committee members Brian Alston, Sherril Ray and Shawn Ragin that the driver shortage results in late busses and that's the top issue at this time.

Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox and district Chief Human Resources Officer John Koumas shared with the committee how the district could potentially better recruit drivers, including offering incentives and making applicants aware of dual-employment opportunities at schools. Due to relatively low wages, many current drivers have, or seek, second jobs.

Incentives could take the form of the district potentially paying for at least some of the fees associated with the detailed process of a new hire earning their commercial driver's license and officially becoming a driver.

Committee members and administrators also discussed various goals and objectives that the group will research as they move forward. No trustees discussed pay as one of their main goals.

Alston, the committee chairman, said he doesn't think bus driver pay is an issue the study group should focus on since pay issues exist across the district.

"I don't think this is the committee to look at that," Alston said, "because pay is not something that's germane to just our transportation workers. It's across the board with other workers. I do think it's something as a district, and as a full school board, that we are going to have to look at. It's not just transportation that deserves a pay increase."

The special committee was formed in December by the board after 15 to 20 district drivers held out of work for a week in November, protesting for higher pay.

Alston and Ray asked specifically if rezoning of district bus routes and moving students to other schools could help with current transportation efficiencies.

Martin-Knox said it's her experience that the district and board would need to hire a consultant to do a comprehensive study if it wanted to consider rezoning since numerous factors - including some desegregation laws - go into accurately making those decisions.

Some tweaking of routes might be a possibility, Ray said, but she said that she understands a lot of factors go into any rezoning.

The ad hoc committee's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m. at the district office, 1345 Wilson Hall Road.