by Janna Parker and Lori Morrow
The Prince George’s County Public Schools system has two hundred and seven schools spread over an area of five hundred miles of rural farmland, bustling cities, quiet suburbs and vibrant college towns, serving a community with a population of almost one million people just outside of the Nation’s capital. With statistics like that, it is imperative that the transportation for our school system be one of the best in the Country. Yet Prince George’s County Public Schools has struggled with meeting the demand for Transportation services in our county since at least 2015. Every year, the school system’s theme for September is “Attendance Awareness Month”, but this theme is greatly overshadowed by the volume of frustrating complaints from parents, students, and community members as buses arrive late, overcrowded, or not at all.
While the national shortage of bus drivers extends well beyond the borders of Prince George’s County and Maryland, the working conditions of bus drivers varies greatly from state to state, district to district. For months, PGCPS bus drivers have spoken before the Board of Education about the various issues that impact the retention of current employees and the recruiting of more drivers to our system. We greatly encourage the PGCPS Administration to work with the drivers in finding immediate solutions to address concerns including salary, benefits, working conditions in the bus lots, and the management of bus routes. Leadership must ensure all students are provided reliable transportation, as well as providing those trusted with our most precious cargo a proper compensation and safe and healthy work conditions.
Through listening to testimony and conversations with bus drivers, we have heard about many possible solutions that could improve the working conditions of our drivers, thereby improving recruitment and retention to fill remaining vacancies:
- Providing drivers and attendants a livable wage to show the people transporting our children that they are valuable members of our PGCPS community. (The current rate of pay from the pay scale is x route hours (6-8) x 185 days / 22 pay periods, (https://www.pgcps.org/employee-and-labor-relations/), not including tax deductions, health insurance, etc.)
- Making salary proration an option instead of mandatory to provide employees more control over their pay
- Guaranteeing all drivers and attendants a minimum of eight hours of pay per day
- Spreading health insurance deductions over all paychecks instead of 20
- Allowing paid professional development days for drivers to participate in student safety training
- Ensuring all bus lot facilities provide a safe, healthy work environments for employees, including adequate restrooms and cleaning services
- Ensuring that drivers have input when scheduling routes, including making sure subsequent route times do not overlap and have realistic student loading/unloading times factored into the route timing
- Allowing summer work to accrue towards retirement
- Considering hub system/routes where it makes sense for neighborhoods to consolidate routes which can be aligned to under the distance for those who walk to school
- Providing compensation for drivers who pick up other routes during their shift to cover for absences/vacancies, similar to teachers who are compensated for having to cover additional classes due to lack of a substitute
- Enforcing a 2-year commitment for drivers who receive Commercial Driver License training through PGCPS
We recognize that many of these items would need to be negotiated through the ACE-AFSCME collective bargaining agreement, but as parents and community members we feel the need to voice our support for these employees who carry our most precious cargo. Parents, teachers, students, and community members are all affected when our drivers do not have the adequate resources, a livable wage, and a clean safe work environment needed to effectively transport our students back and forth across the county. Monthly bus driver fairs have not served to correct this situation in recent years, so we must work together to find larger solutions for this persistent issue.
We can help by standing with our drivers and testifying at school board meetings, speaking out at listening sessions with CEO Dr. Monica Goldson, and advocating with them for the resources and pay they deserve. Tell friends, bring friends, and make your voice heard.