Board hears bus driver complaints

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston school board members Teresa Grant and Ronald Johnson were at a polling place on March 3 when a teaching assistant approached them with a complaint.

“If the TAs, when they’re driving a bus, hit a mailbox, accidentally of course, they are required to pay the first $200 for that mailbox,” Grant told her fellow school board members at their meeting last week.

Grant found that unconscionable. “This is already one of our lowest-paid groups of people; $200 out of their paycheck is huge,” she said.

Grant said she found the TA’s story so incredulous that she wondered if it were true.

Oh, it’s true, fellow board member Peggy Smith told Grant. “Having a husband who drives a bus, I can assure you that we have paid for several mailboxes,” she said.

Sometimes mailboxes are hard to avoid, Smith said. “People park on the street, and these buses can’t get by,” she said.

The TA that day had another complaint common among bus drivers, Grant said. “When they go get their (Department of Transportation) physicals, they’re not allowed to charge time for that,” she said. “They have to take leave to do a DOT physical.”

“I can’t even imagine that,” Grant said. “As an employer, if I send someone for a physical, we pay that.”

Board member Terri Sessoms couldn’t imagine that either. “I just believe that’s completely unfair,” she said “If we are requiring them to be a bus driver in order to keep their jobs, we should not be asking them to take leave to do something that is required as part of their job.”

The school board said it would look into both complaints, with an eye toward relieving bus drivers of the mailbox burden and paying them for their time when they take physicals.

Smith also called for a tally on how much the school system itself had spent on replacing damaged mailboxes. “Some of these mailboxes are not $200 mailboxes,” she said. “Some of them are works of art.”