‘This is ridiculous’: Some parents say after Sumter County School District bus drivers go on strike

Sumter County parents concerned with busing after school district announces ‘shortage’ of drivers

SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - The Sumter County School district sent messages to parents Tuesday morning saying there was a shortage of bus drivers and routes could be delayed.

The district also posted the message on Facebook, where many parents expressed their concern for an ongoing problem with busing.

Sumter School District is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers today, which may result in the delay of some of our bus routes. Thank you for your patience.

Posted by Sumter School District on Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Many parents on the post said their children’s buses are consistently delayed, sometimes not arriving at school until 9 a.m. or later.

“Us as parents who are at work now have to get off of work to find a ride for our children to get to school and it’s ridiculous,” said Candace Smalls, who has three children in the district. “They’ve known for a while this has been an issue, today wasn’t the first day.”

Smalls said the problems have been ongoing since the beginning of the school year. Three weeks ago, she said, her daughter waited three hours at the bus stop, before calling Smalls shortly after 10:00 a.m. needing a ride to school.

“I understand but there’s a better way to go about it so that the children of Sumter County don’t have to suffer,” Smalls said. “They shouldn’t have to suffer because of the pay. There’s plenty of jobs that need better pay but to stand on the side of the road with signs, threatening the safety of my child on a bus because you don’t have enough pay, that’s not okay.”

Cassandra Peterson, who said she’s driven for the Sumter County School District for several years, took part in Tuesday morning’s strike.

“We love what we do so some of us can tough it out and try to do the best we can, but right now, at this point, we’re tired of it,” said Peterson.

Around noon Tuesday, the district posted an update on its Facebook page saying bus routes Tuesday afternoon should not be delayed.

The district thanked “coaches, teachers, and regular drivers from other areas who stepped up to ensure the bus routes were covered.”

Parents are concerned the problem is long from over and some of the nearly two dozen bus drivers who were on strike Tuesday morning said they will not get back behind the wheel until the district pays them more.

“We are sorry as bus drivers but we have to stand up for ourselves,” Peterson said. “This is not about you, and not about the students but this is what’s going on in our personal lives and we have to take care of ourselves and our family in order to provide transportation for your children.”

Calvin Bennett has children in the district but supports the strike.

“This problem is systematic across the state, across the country actually, but really bad here,” he said. “Where people don’t want to pay for our babies.”

In a statement sent to WIS on Tuesday afternoon, the school said about 20 school bus drivers did not show up for work Tuesday morning. The school’s superintendent met with a group of drivers at the district’s office where “they presented some valid concerns.”

Here’s the full statement:

"On Tuesday, Sumter School District experienced a shortage of bus drivers, which resulted in the delay of some of our routes. Twenty out of 90 bus drivers did not report to work this morning. Eighteen were from the Sumter bus hub, and six were from the Furman bus hub. We commend our coaches, teachers, and regular drivers from other areas who stepped up to ensure the bus routes were covered. Routes will run as usual this afternoon, and we do not anticipate any major delays.

The district received an anonymous letter that contained concerns about pay, improvements, and the desire to meet with the Superintendent. Due to the confidentiality of pay, three days (October 30, November 1, and November 5) were set aside to meet with drivers on an individual basis; however, only six drivers elected this opportunity to meet, and the majority of those canceled.

This morning, Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox met with a group of bus drivers who had gathered outside of the district office. They presented some valid concerns, and she offered to meet with representatives of the group to continue discussion. Bus drivers will also have the opportunity to meet in a group setting next week.

As we are still in a fiscal emergency, all matters that pertain to the effective operations of the district, particularly those that impact the education of our children, continues to be our top priority."

The school district set three times for group meetings with bus drivers who want to express their concerns. Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox told drivers if they want to discuss their pay rate, they must do so individually because of confidentiality issues.

Here is a copy of the letter sent to bus drivers from the superintendent:

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