Bus drivers deserve state benefits

Published 7:40 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation responds to Deal’s budget proposal

Governor Deal says that it’s not fair that school bus drivers who work less than 30 hours a week receive State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) coverage, when other state employees who work less than 30 hours per week do not. The fact is however, that overly simplistic comparisons of positions or groups utilizing only one factor can often lead to an assessment that is shortsighted; neither accurate nor effective. In our opinion, the governor’s solution reflects that flaw. His solution proposes that equal (zero SHBP benefits for those non-certified school system employees,) is fair.
But we all know equal does not necessarily mean fair. To be fair and effective, solutions need to be tailored to the specific, unique characteristics of the issue, with consideration towards the needs of the people being served. Let us be clear. We value the hard work of every state employee, whether full time or part time. This issue is not, and never has been, about them.
It is about school bus drivers. Senator Jack Hill said this week, “Traditionally, there’s been a unique relationship between school bus drivers and children.” Why? Because at its core, the relationship is about protecting and teaching children, and the special commitment school bus drivers have to support students and the education they receive. It’s about the relationship that school bus drivers develop with the children they serve twice a day. They listen, teach, support and most importantly, they protect. School bus drivers by the very nature of their job protect and serve children.
So here is the real issue. If school bus drivers are driven from their profession as a result of this recommendation being approved, how will we ensure that every Georgia student receives access to quality learning opportunities? How will we be able to protect and support students during the entire educational process? Pupil transportation is an essential component to the process of delivering quality learning in schools. It protects our students and ensures they arrive to school on time and ready to learn.
The most effective way pupil transportation providers deliver this vital support service is to employ quality, professional school bus drivers. SHBP coverage is an important tool that allows us to recruit and retain employees who are willing and able to meet the demands of this position. In surveys being conducted across the state, school system transportation directors are reporting that 20-100% of their school bus drivers do not work 30 hours a week. School system officials are concerned that many of the drivers affected by this recommendation will be forced to consider leaving the profession if SHBP coverage is no longer available to them.
SHBP coverage is the primary reason most of our school bus drivers decided to begin a career in pupil transportation. This benefit has been earned for three decades by school bus drivers serving the children in their communities. It was approved 30 years ago by legislators who understood that education is about more than just teachers and classrooms.
K-12 public education is a system consisting of valued team members. Each possesses unique expertise and skills, providing access to learning, learning opportunities in the classroom, or specialized, needed support throughout the school day. Each group also protects the children who leave the security of their home every morning to begin their journey towards becoming productive citizens. School bus drivers are necessary and important to that system. The loss of school bus drivers as a result of this recommendation will put students at greater risk, reduce access to learning opportunities and diminish the effectiveness of the education system.

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