Arlington Public Schools will open this summer Intentsto pay its bus drivers more than neighboring school districts in Maryland and Virginia.
Arlington’s bus drivers would receive the highest wages at all stages of their careers compared to other regional school systems, if APS leadership and the School Board stick to their pledge to improve employee compensation in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, which is being developed.
This is a result of bus drivers voicing their desire for better pay and a change in their work environment at demonstrations and School Board meetings. The drivers have requested the same bonuses as teachers who agree to work during summer school. They also called out bullying and harassment in the transportation department.
Although APS leadership maintains that the bonus for summer school was intended only for teachers and other staff, officials state they are taking steps towards making drivers’ wages more competitive. First, the School Board approved in November bonuses for all salaried or hourly employees. Now, the Board administration and APS are increasing their wages by about $2.
“This is very important to me, to all of us, to ensure we’re properly compensating our employees,” Superintendent Francisco Durn said in a work session on the budget last week. “We’re not market-competitive right now, in many of our scales and positions.”
APS plans to reform the payment systems for teachers, administrators, and support staff. This will allow for compensation for any pay increases that were not granted in the last four years. Durn indicated that this will require budget tightening.
“I want to acknowledge that it’s going to be very painful for certain sectors of our community, who have been very attached to certain programs, that we are going to need to make some choices to cut,” School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said during the same meeting. “We’re going to need to make those strategic choices in order to invest in the thing we know that matters the most… our staff.”
APS reported that bus driver and attendant compensation increased in 2018, 2019, and 2020 fiscal years. Says. The approved budget for the fiscal year 2022 includes a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for bus drivers and pay hikes based on years of service.
Christina Childress, a bus driver, said that while the planned raises for the 2023 fiscal year are welcomed, the devil will be found in the details.
“The starting rate continues to be displayed as $21.59,” she said in a Dec. 2 School Board meeting. “Myself nor any of my colleagues started at that number. For the next three years, someone is being paid 43c less than that. Many work multiple jobs due to the compensation they’re not receiving at APS.”
Crystal Harris, a fellow bus driver, said that the School Board needs to move faster.
“2023? We don’t even know we’re going to be living in 2022, and you guys are talking about 2023,” Harris said. “Did you not forget we’re living in a world with a deadly disease taking people out on the daily?”
Bus drivers thanked Durn for his response to their pleas to improve the workplace culture. But, they said that there is still work to do.
“We are being intimidated, bullied, followed in our personal time, being recorded, having pictures taken for gathering outside of perimeters of transportation and inside of transportation building,” said Ivis Castillo. “The hostile environment is worse than ever. It’s creating a heavy burden on all of us.”
To improve workplace culture, APS conducted a “climate assessment” this past fall to understand driver concerns and will be providing job training to transportation department leaders this month and in the spring.
It also added amenities at the bus dispatch centre, securing 18 additional parking spaces, and adding televisions and furniture to the fitness center access for drivers who use it between routes. These changes are greatly appreciated, but the rollout was confusing, according to drivers at the meeting.
APS applied to the Virginia Department of Education for funds to be used for retention and hiring incentives.