JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 200 school bus drivers have signed a petition against the Duval County School Board’s decision to hire Student Transportation of America to transport students on Jacksonville’s Northside. They fear the board’s decision will put their pay raises and potentially their jobs at risk.
Bus drivers filled the school board meeting room Tuesday night. The drivers who signed the petition work for First Student Inc. -- the current contractor transporting student to school on the Northside. The board agreed with the recommendation to approve a contract that takes the routes operated by First Student and hands them to Student Transportation of America.
Wona Mann has been a bus driver with First Student for 13 years.
“I’m a CDL driver. I can go anywhere, but I love First Student. I love driving the school bus. I love driving kids. I learn from them. They learn from me. That was my plan until I retired, but if we have to go up in the umbrella and take a pay cut, I’m out," Mann said.
Contracts obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM show that the union representing drivers negotiated a bump in pay for First Student entry-level and upper-level bus drivers.
The move voids the pay raises drivers with First Student negotiated for next school year.
The Duval County School District said Student Transportation of America’s bid would save the county money.
According to Local 512 President Jim Shurling, drivers are upset because of the uncertainty of what their economic package might be for the next three years. He said drivers working for Student Transportation of America in other areas of Duval County are working without a contract because the “drivers rejected it by a large majority.”
Records show Student Transportation of America is offering entry-level drivers $13.50 an hour next school year. First Student agreed to pay entry-level drivers $15.50 an hour next school year.
“There is another tentative date to come to the table with Student Transportation of America, December 19. They are currently working without a contract," Shurling said.
Shurling said pay intersects with driver shortages that school districts nationwide are experiencing, including Duval County.
An email from Duval County Public Schools stated the district does have enough drivers to cover routes, but they are short more than 50 drivers district-wide that they need to be back-up drivers.
Student Transportation of America sent the following statement:
“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. 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.”