Durham school bus drivers want bonuses too

May. 01, 2014 @ 11:06 PM

Bus drivers are part of the village that helps Durham educate its children.

As such, some drivers believe they should also receive $500 bonuses, the same amount Durham Public Schools has promised teachers.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and we want you to understand that as bus drivers, we’re part of that village,” said Sheila Daniels, a school bus driver and member of the Teamsters Union. “We work side-by-side with the teachers.”

Daniels made her comments Thursday during a public hearing on the school district’s $408-million budget proposed for the 2014-15 school year.

The budget includes a 2 percent raises for all state-funded positions and a $500 bonus for classroom teaches and certified instructional-based personnel, such as media coordinators, social workers and counselors.

The latter group was added after school administrators first shared the budget proposal last week at a school board meeting. That’s when board members Omega Curtis Parker and Fredrick Davis lobbied strongly including them.

There was no such lobbying for school bus drivers, but neither did the board rule out completely the possibility of them receiving a bonus.

Drivers Ethel Mae Davis and Myra Morgan also urged the board to extend the bonuses to them.

“Everything is going up except for our pay,” Davis said. “We can’t live like that.”   

Rachel Wells Eitzen, a Teamsters representative, said the board should adopt a budget that provides an equitable pay increase for all school employees.

“Whatever you adopt for one group of employees, you should adopt for others, whether it’s a $500 bonuses or pay increase,” Eitzen said.

Besides the 2 percent raises and $500 bonuses, the proposed budget anticipates 600 additional students –350 them coming to DPS and the rest going to charter schools -- and calls for spending $3.6 million to support 60 additional teaching positions.

The district would have to fork over an additional $716,000 to charters schools on top of the $15 million it already contributes each year.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter floated the idea of talking to county commissioners about whether they might be willing to come up with the extra money for charter schools.

Carter said that, if the county agreed, the school district could use the $716,000 to provide services to the 350 new students she predicts will be mostly Hispanics.

“If we could do that, most of the 300 students we’re going to get next year are going to be Latino, probably.” Carter said. “That’s been the trend and they need services. We could easily fund more interpreters, family liaisons to help these 300 children that we’re going to be getting if we had that $700,000.”

Durham Congregations Associations & Neighborhoods (Durham CAN) has called on the district to hire an additional interpreter to improve the district’s communication with immigrant families.

But approaching county commissioners about the money for charter schools could prove tricky in the wake of the school board’s pledge to not ask the county for any additional funds this year. That was part of the board’s effort to rebuild trust in the wake of last year’s discovery of an extra $15 million in DPS’ unassigned fund balance.

The board was unaware that the district was flush with a nearly $20-million fund balance last spring when it went to commissioners for more money.      

The discovery of the extra money embarrassed the board and cost former superintendent Eric Becoats his job.

Under the new budget proposal, the district will pull nearly $11 million from its unassigned fund balance to balance the budget.  
The budget also reflects savings of $1.1 million that the district hopes to realize through reducing the travel budget, utility bills, contracted services, telephone lines and one central office position.

On Thursday, District 3 candidate Lisa Gordon Stella criticized the district’s budget in a news release, contending that the budget is short on specifics.

She cites as examples spending codes and their total allocation under broad categories such as “Disadvantage Student Supplemental Funding” ($1.1 million) and “at-risk student services” ($7.2 million).

“We get gross spending totals on large categories, but that’s all,” said Gordon Stella, who made similar comments during the public hearing.

District 2 candidate Jimmy Doster issued a statement criticizing the budget process and comments made by board members during the public hearing, including Carter’s opening remarks in which she said the board would like to fund the most programs for students.

“No, the priority should be to use our limited taxpayer funded money wisely by evaluating all programs (currently no evaluation takes place) and funding programs where they are most leveraged,” Doster said. 

Melody Peters, a DPS parent and the PTA president at Brogden Middle School, called for Pre-K classes for all four-year-olds, improved technology access for students and more funding for the arts.

District 2 school board candidate Sendolo Diaminah urged the board to provide more training about DPS’ budget so citizens can have a better understanding of what goes into crafting its annual spending plan.

“I understand it’s a complicated document, and the more our community understands how it works and how the board is making priorities and decisions, the more the community will be able to articulate our priorities and support the board around that,” Diaminah said.