Port Angeles school bus drivers decry route cuts
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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All-day kindergarten, a result of the state budget that the Legislature approved last summer after two special sessions, left many drivers without their once-reliable afternoon runs.
“Up until this year, I had a midday kindergarten route which brought me to full-time status for benefits, as well as additional income,” said Kelley Barnes, a 17-year driver for the district.
“One-third of our drivers have lost midday hours that get them to that same status this year,” she said.
“The fact that we didn’t know about this loss until the end of August has made this difficult situation absolutely devastating — devastating in terms of economics, but also because of the disrespect shown to us by our district.”
Barnes and others decried the lack of advanced notice that many drivers would lose up to 30 percent of their income and 30 percent of their benefited time.
“We need your help to rectify the impact to us,” Barnes told the School Board.
“We are drowning. Please don’t just sit in the boat and watch us. Throw us a lifeline.”
School Board member Patti Happe said the decision to switch to all-day kindergarten was made late because the state budget was passed at the last minute.
“We did not know that we were going to get all-day kindergarten until very, very late,” Happe said.
An overflow crowd of about 40 filled the boardroom of the district’s Central Services Building for the first half of the 2½-hour meeting.
Bus drivers seated in the front rows showed solidarity by wearing blue Public School Employees of Washington shirts.
“I did not find out that I was losing my midday until about Sept. 9,” said Margaret Russell, a 25-year bus driver for the district.
“I had to drop our health insurance for the family and take only the catastrophic policy for myself.”
Russell said bus drivers are at the “beginning and the end” of a student’s school day.
“We do a great job, and we’re safe,” she added.
“I’m asking you to consider who we are and what we do for the Port Angeles School District and give consideration to the years of service that we have put in.”
Linda Barnett, a 19-year driver, said her No. 1 concern is the safety and care of the children on her bus.
“I know I’m carrying precious cargo, and I treat them as such,” said Barnett, who added: “Losing one-third of our pay is a huge impact.”
School Board President Lonnie Linn thanked the speakers who testified for their comments.
“We’ll definitely take them into consideration,” he said.
Happe said the district never intended to surprise bus drivers with all-day kindergarten.
“The late timing of the decision for all-day kindergarten was directly a result of the horribly late time, as everybody remembers, of when the Legislature passed the budget,” Happe said.
“We knew it was a big deal, and it came down real late.
“We’re really sorry you felt that you were ignored in that.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 12. 2013 5:27PM