Seminole County school buses roll out amid driver ‘sick out’

Bus drivers seeking higher wages in negotiations with county

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A potential “sick out” by Seminole County school bus drivers did not result in a large protest Friday morning, according to district officials.

The Seminole County Bus Driver’s Association is in negotiations with Seminole County Public Schools, leading to the possibility of the work shortage. The school district sent a notice to parents about the possible protest Thursday afternoon.

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The district said 16 drivers and five school bus monitors called out Friday morning and more were expected in the afternoon. According to Seminole County school officials, about 19 drivers have called out each day from Monday through Thursday this week.

No bus routes were affected Friday morning, according to school officials. The district said it’s keeping an eye on potential call outs later in the day to see if afternoon routes would be impacted.

Chardo Richardson, of the Seminole County Bus Driver’s Association, said the negotiation process hasn’t been easy due to the pandemic, which has many school bus drivers frustrated.

“We just gave our salary pre-proposals about two weeks ago. The next session is when the district will be meeting with us giving us their counter proposal,” Richardson explained.

A message from Seminole County Public Schools was sent to parents 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Although we’re currently in collective bargaining, please know that this is NOT in association with our School Bus Driver’s Union. In fact, we have a great working relationship with our Bus Driver’s Union and they have discouraged any drivers from participating,” the statement read.

The district added, due to its shortage of drivers, a sick-out could have a negative impact, potentially causing long waits and delays for those needing to be picked up.

“If a sick-out were to occur, it would have a significant impact on the district’s ability to transport your students to and from school,” the message continues. “ ... Our hope is that we will have smooth and normal operations tomorrow. However, if we do experience issues with bus driver attendance in the morning, we will continue to keep our families informed in case you wish to plan for alternative transportation methods as a result.”

Richardson said the idea is not union organized and he does not support it.

“Right now, it wouldn’t help us. Right now, you’re going to make parents in the community mad, you’re going to leave children at bus stops and we don’t even have a counter proposal from the district so it doesn’t make sense that you would put your family in jeopardy, your finances in jeopardy,” he said.

This also comes as the district continues to struggle with a school bus driver shortage.

Currently they have about 400 bus drivers, but 51 positions open.

Michael Lawrence, a spokesman for the district, said they are now offering more bonuses to school bus drivers with perfect attendance. Lawrence said this would give bus drivers the ability to have an extra $1,150 in bonus pay to earn $2,150 in a school year.

“We do feel that was a little bit extra, more above and beyond what they already get offered to assist with giving them a little something this school year,” he said.

Lawrence said if several bus drivers decide to call out on Friday, he encourages parents to have a Plan B just in case.

“If we think this is a possibility, we want to make them aware, and if they have the ability to bring their kids to school or pick them up, if they don’t want to have any interruption on their school day,” he said.

About the Author:

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!