By Rick Palsgrove
In a split vote, the Groveport Madison Board of Education rejected a proposal from the district’s bus transportation provider asking for the district’s financial help in efforts to retain and attract school bus drivers.
Petermann LLC made a proposal to the board to increase the starting hourly wage for school bus drivers to $16.50 and the top hourly wage from $23.75 to $24.25. According to Joe Faessler, development director for Petermann LLC, this would cost an additional $155,956 per year. Petermann LLC asked Groveport Madison Schools to fund $105,000 of this cost per year. As part of the proposal, Petermann LLC would pay for an attendance incentive program for bus drivers. The proposal also included plans to conduct a study/survey to find ways to retain and attract drivers.
At its Jan. 11 meeting, the board voted 3-2 against the proposal with board members Bryan Shoemaker, Libby Gray, and Chris Snyder opposing it and Nancy Gillespie and Mary Tedrow supporting it.
Last July, Groveport Madison and Petermann LLC agreed to a five year contract for bus service and Shoemaker noted the district is only in the first year of that negotiated deal.
“I want people to make as much money as they can, but Petermann didn’t negotiate for and foresee the conditions that arose,” said Shoemaker. “I don’t feel the board should have to fund their inconsistency on the issue.”
Shoemaker said the board could review the matter again next year.
Gillespie said, “Driving a bus is a hard job and drivers deserve to be paid well.”
She said no one really knows the full reasons why Petermann is unable to retain bus drivers, but the study would help find out.
“In the meantime, we could have given money to help out. Petermann did show us our bus drivers are the lowest paid in the area,” said Gillespie.
At the board’s December meeting, Faessler said the main factor causing delays on the district’s 63 bus routes is a shortage of bus drivers. He said a combination of an improving economy that is luring drivers away to full time jobs elsewhere, and the fact the starting pay for bus drivers at Groveport Madison is the lowest in the area, is contributing to the driver shortage.
The starting pay for Petermann LLC bus drivers at Groveport Madison is $14.50 per hour. In comparison, Canal Winchester pays $17.16, Hamilton Township pays $18.22, and Columbus pays $18.50.
Last summer, in an effort to address this, Petermann LLC raised the starting hourly wage by 16 percent and added a few other financial perks.
“But it simply was not enough and things keep changing. Everyone around us increased their wages,” said Faessler in December. “We need to attract more drivers.”
Shoemaker named board president
The board elected Shoemaker to serve as board president and Snyder to serve as board vice president, both by a 3-2 vote. In both votes, Shoemaker, Snyder and Gray voted in favor while Gillespie and Tedrow opposed.
Sedalia modular classroom unit
Deputy Superintendent John Hurd said the modular classroom unit at Sedalia Elementary is expected to be in place by early May and be ready for students by the start of next school year.
The plan is to place the modular on the west side of the building. The modular will contain 12 full size classrooms and also include a staff restroom and student restrooms. It is being put in place as a temporary measure to help ease student overcrowding, especially in the north end of the district.
The cost to lease/purchase and install the modular unit is $737,632. However, this price will be slightly reduced as the board opted not to include a $50,000 walkway awning with the unit because it did not offer much protection for the students.
“We are planning to lease the unit with the option to own at the end of the lease,” said Groveport Madison Treasurer John Walsh last fall. “If we paid for everything up front, we would write a check for $737,632. We do not plan on paying for everything up front. Our plan will be to pay for the installation cost – approximately $387,618 – over the time it takes to install the unit. We will then finance the $350,014 over a period of time, probably three years, and at the end of the lease we will own the unit.”
I agree with the board of education voting down a proposed change to the nearly new transportation contract. I would have done the same for a variety of reasons. However, I am concerned that the district discontinued their bus purchase program. That program, which budgeted money each year to replenish the bus inventory by purchasing approximately three buses a year, as they became too costly to maintain or not safe for our kids. As I understand, this was done the year high school busing was temporarily eliminated because their was no money for buses or anything else for that matter. Having a fleet of our own buses served two purposes: First, it allows us to negotiate a better contract because they could not charge for service and the use of the bus and next, it gave us more bargaining power because it would be much easier to bring transportation back in-house if you had even a partial fleet of buses. I think the board needs to look into restarting that program, the sooner the better.