JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 200 Duval County School bus drivers have signed their names to petition the Duval County School Board over a contract decision that could put hundreds of bus driver pay raises at risk.
The petition, signed by 261 drivers with First Student Transportation, lays out concerns over the school district’s recommendation that Student Transportation of America take over another school zone. It’s a company that, records show, will pay bus drivers less than the current company plans to pay next school year.
Currently, the Duval County School District has five separate contracts for each geographic school area. According to Duval County Public Schools, they plan to combine two zones on the Northside into one zone.
According to the school district, this will impact school zones for Raines, Ribault and First Coast High Schools and includes elementary and middle schools in those boundaries.
Both of those zones are currently operated by First Student, but according to DCPS, the school district has recommended Student Transportation of America take over.
The move would mean Student Transportation of America would operate three of four zones for Duval County Schools. Contracts obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM show that under the vendor Duval County Schools is recommending, driver’s wages for new hires will stay at $13.50 for the next four years. This is where drivers take issue, according to the petition.
Drivers with First Student have negotiated a wage increase for next school year, from $13.50 to $15.50 for first-year drivers.
"They have brought up the wages to help reduce the shortage of drivers and monitors,” the petition reads.
“There is a huge school bus driver shortage across the nation and Jacksonville is right there in line with it,” teamsters Local 512 President Jim Shurling said. “We believe in offering a good economic package so people want to be school bus drivers again.”
In a letter to the school board, drivers wrote: “We have never thought of a strike before, and do not want to strike, but feel the offer Lee Rd. [Student Transportation of America] employees are being offered is well below First Student and refuse to go backwards.”
A school bus driver with First Student, who has driven a school bus in Duval County for close to 30 years, said the decision is a big step back for drivers who have negotiated for better pay for years.
“We drive 60-65 kids in one haul. We think that our wages are fair for us and we just don't think we should go backwards,” said the First Student driver.
A spokesperson for DCPS told News4Jax for the district, “this is a purchasing process, not an employment process.”
“Good stewardship of public funding requires that purchasing of this nature be awarded to the lowest bidder meeting the requirements. In this case, Student Transportation of America is the lowest bidder meeting requirements, and the School Board is expected to take action on this contract at it’s December meeting next week.”
We asked the school district what the cost difference in the two bids but have not heard back yet. According to Shurling, Student Transportation of America bid six cents lower per mile.
The school board will vote on the recommendation at the school board meeting Dec. 10.
Denis Gallagher, Jr., Vice President of Operations for STA’s Southeast Region, issued a written statement to News4Jax on Monday.
“Student Transportation of America has partnered with Duval County since 2009. In addition to providing the community with the highest level of service and safety, we have earned a reputation for working closely with the Teamsters Local 512 in continuing to enhance wages and benefits for our employees,” Gallagher wrote. “We have the utmost respect for the hard work and dedication of the current drivers and monitors servicing Duval County GSAs 2 and 4, and are committed to providing wages at the current level or higher.”