Pickens Bus Drivers Sue BOE

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Twenty-six Pickens County bus drivers are suing the Pickens County Board of Education for unpaid wages. According to Schulten Ward and Associates LLP Attorney Dean R. Fuchs, the case is still in its infancy. The complaint was filed on August 7th, Fuchs said, but the BOE wasn’t served until August 31st. In a recent conversation with FYN, Fuchs said he wasn’t sure why the serving process took so long, highlighting the abnormality of duration between the file and serving date.

According to the complaint, the district paid the bus drivers for three hours per day for services, even though in many instances, the drivers actually spent more than three hours completing their routes and related job duties. The document also states since 2007, the amount of time the drivers needed to complete their assignments has increased. In the 2006-07 school year, the district issued a pay schedule for the drivers, reflecting an annual salary, which was a combination of state salary and local supplement.

“’ The hourly rate of pay for each classification of school bus driver was one-third of the school bus drivers ‘daily rate,’ meaning each school bus driver was being paid for three (3) hours per day,”

the complaint states. Then, in 2009-10 the bus drivers manual said bus routes should be arranged to require to use all required buses for three hours a day. The same section for the 2011-12 manual stated bus routes should be arranged to use all required buses four hours a day.

The document, however, also lists a few other notable items. It states that in April or May 2011, Former Director of Operations Lloyd Shaddix told drivers he was “reclassifying” them from three-hour employees to four-hour employees, because he said the district could only insure school bus drivers if they were four-hour employees, but not if they were three-hour employees. The document also makes a stark accusation against the defendants.

“In some cases,”

it states,

“(the) defendant actually paid extra compensation to some school bus drivers who vociferously complained to (the) defendant about being underpaid.”

Additionally, the BOE is accused of violating the Georgia Opens Record Act. On July 3, 2012, the bus drivers sent the BOE a written request for several public documents, including copies of dates and hours worked; rates and wages, and payroll records. The BOE received the request on July 5, 2012. According to the complaint, to date, the BOE has failed and refused to respond to the records request.

The lawsuit comes at a transitional time for the district’s transportation services. On September 13th, Director of Operations Rick Little mentioned the possibility of contracting out the district’s transportation services to First Student Transportation. Little said the contract would result in a financial gain, saving the county approximately $3.2 million over five years. See full article here. Little’s enthusiasm for contracting transportation services contrasts his feelings toward the arrangement in August, when Little called the companies “dogmatic,” In August Little and Superintendent Ben Desper said they were concerned about personnel in the contracting arrangement, saying the transportation company would control the drivers and could let them go close to retirement. According to Little and Desper, these drivers could lose their retirement benefits. They also said at the time that contracting would not financially benefit the district.

The BOE lawsuit will be the second significant legal action taken against the county in a short span of time. On the county side, property owners were recently hit with a millage increase to pay for a $400,000 settlement from a years-old case.

So far, the board has been quiet on the bus driver lawsuit.

FYN will follow this story as it develops.

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