It was a heated debate between the Hamilton County school board and the districts independent bus drivers Wednesday night.
The school board's transportation committee has not agreed on a bus contract for the next 2017-18 school year, but many independent bus drivers say they aren't happy with the contract board members approved in April.
About two dozen independent bus drivers showed up at at the committee's work session to voice their concerns about the proposed contracts. Board members Joe Win gate, Rhonda Thurman, Dr. Steve Highlander, Kathy Lennon and Fannie Robinson were at the work session.
Drivers like Janie Smith say she questions her future with the school district.
"As of right now I'm not signing," said Smith. "Yeah I want the pay, but I want insurance I'm a mother I have kids I want insurance. When I bought in I wasn't offered insurance and I knew that, but our pay was always the same. Then all of a sudden they're wanting to change the pay rate on us to give us a cut and wanting to give us the $9,500 in lieu of the insurance. Well, we owe the taxes on that."
Board members explained that as of now, independent bus drivers with more than one route will receive an additional $9,500, instead of benefits. However, many of the drivers were grandfathered into benefits, which some drivers is not fair. They want the same seat and mileage pay, regardless if they receive insurance.
"I drive a bus just like everybody else. I don't do nothing different," said one driver.
Thurman mentioned the school system will save 7.5% on driver's social security. she questioned whether that amount can go back to the drivers.
"There is always some money in the budget that can be moved around," said Thurman.
Win gate explained insurance has not been provided to bus drivers since the early 2000's. He says the bus drivers that do have insurance have been considered county employees since before the school systems merged.
"There are only 35 bus drivers in the county who have insurance and they are the 35 bus drivers in the state of Tennessee that have insurance there are no other counties that provide insurance to bus drivers," said Win gate. "There are some things that are either by state law or whatever that we're never going to be able to satisfy everybody, but this board really wants to try to do what's best for our families and part of that is transporting students back-and-forth to school."
Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Lee McDaniel, told the committee he will look at the numbers an get more information about the budget for board members to go over by Thursday.
The committee also agreed that the contract will require independent bus drivers to have FPS, cameras and a radio on their buses. McDaniel explained the board will install radios and cameras once, but if independent bus drivers get another bus they will be responsible for moving it to the other bus. Because some independent drivers don't already have some of the equipment the committee agreed to allow 10 days for drivers to get a camera, five days for FPS. The drivers must have a radio to run a route.
As far as accountability, independent drivers asked the committee to allow them to be written up by the transportation director and not be given penalties to avoid fines.
School board attorney, Scott Bennett, suggested calling a section in the contract the "evaluation for driver's performance," and let the transportation director evaluate them on criteria.
"We can't say it's always been great and just keep operating. One day something might happen, and we need to be prepared," said Win gate.
The bus drivers' current contract expires June 30. Thurman noted that contracts should be signed by then so that drivers can buy new buses for next school year.