NEW KENT – School bus drivers in New Kent County are concerned about losing their jobs to outsourcing and/or a loss of health benefits.
Although the two issues are unrelated, school bus drivers rallied together Monday night to plead with the New Kent County School Board to reconsider taking any action this budget season that might force them to leave their positions.
"Taking away the drivers' benefits will force many of us to seek other employment," said New Kent bus driver Nancy Gorthright. "Many students will lose their drivers that they trust to provide safe travels to and from school."
"We love our children and we take care of our children."
According to many of the bus drivers, they were told about the possibility of losing their health benefits a few weeks ago by the school division's transportation department.
Others heard that the School Board had been asked by the Board of Supervisors to complete a feasibility study, which could lead to outsourcing the drivers.
School staff are concerned that the bus drivers are blending the two unrelated issues.
"One has nothing to do with the other, and any School Board decisions on either will be made separately during the budget process," said School Superintendent Dr. Robert "Rick" Richardson, Jr. in an email Tuesday.
Richardson explained that the School Board is waiting to learn more about the national Affordable Care ACT (ACA) and Virginia Retirement System (VRS)-driven benefit modifications, which could force part-time employees to enroll in government-approved healthcare.
Though the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-2015 draft budget has not been presented to the School Board, there are currently no plans to eliminate anyone's benefits, Richardson said.
The feasibility study, requested by the Board of Supervisors last spring, was compiled and completed between June and late October. It was then submitted to the prospective vendor for their analysis and findings.
According to Richardson, the results were presented to administration in December and will be formally presented to the School Board on Feb. 18, as a part of the general budget discussion.
Drivers would not automatically lose their jobs if the schools outsource, said Richardson. The vendor could choose to keep the drivers.
"The School Board has yet to make any decisions. The final budget is not scheduled to be adopted until late March," Richardson said.
Though the School Board hasn't made any decisions, the bus drivers urged the board to look closely at the budget.
"We cannot let money dictate what happens to the safety of these children," said bus driver Tansle Ferrell.
"Please reconsider the budget. Take the money from somewhere else and keep our family together," echoed fellow driver Susan Salayi.
The bus driving "family," Ferrell said, includes community members that are small business owners, retired firefighters, military veterans, church leaders, and volunteers, with 468 years of experiencing driving in the county.
"We do our best to arrive on time every time in a safe manner," Ferrell said. "The well-being of our children is our highest priority."
According to Ferrell, bus drivers do a lot for their "children" on their own time, including: