Bus driver salaries don't add up

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By Geoff Hamill

Numbers don’t lie, but they can be deceiving. That was the case in an article published in the Jan. 27 issue of The Springfield Sun about the salaries of bus drivers in Washington and surrounding counties, and it’s only appropriate to clear those numbers up and paint the picture as clearly as possible.

After bus drivers approached the local school board requesting pay raises, I wrote an article that explained how salaries for drivers in Washington County compared to those in surrounding counties, including Marion, Mercer and Nelson counties.

Local drivers requested a raise of 75 cents per hour, and the numbers reflected in the previous article explained how that would impact the salaries of new drivers. However, it did not show the impact on the salaries of those drivers who have been on the job 10, 15, or 20 years, or even 28 years, which is the case for Pam Chesser, a driver interviewed for the article.

When looking at the numbers of starting drivers, it’s clear that Washington County’s new drivers have it better than some in surrounding counties. New drivers in Marion County earn $11.71 per hour, and that number is even lower in Nelson County, where the starting salary is $11.30 per hour. Compared to Washington County’s $12.52 per hour for new drivers, it might not sound like a raise is needed. After all, the local drivers are already making more than their counterparts in larger school districts than ours.

That might be your opinion at first look, and to be honest, it was mine. But after looking more closely, especially at the drivers who have been on the job for a while, you’ll see that those numbers don’t stay as close as they were at the start of the drivers’ careers, and they are not very comparable.

After five years on the job, Washington County drivers are still found to be making slightly more than drivers in some other counties, but after 10 years on the job, the comparisons change, and other counties take a noticeable lead. A driver with 10 years on the job in Mercer County makes 19 cents more per hour, while Nelson County drivers with 10 years experience are paid 86 cents more per hour than the Washington County drivers with the same time on the job. Once you reach the 15- and 20-year milestones behind the wheel, the discrepancy becomes even more glaring, as drivers in other counties make as much as $2 and $3 more than Washington County drivers.

In the Jan. 27 article, Mrs. Chesser was quoted as saying the salaries of Washington County drivers were low in comparison with other counties. She also said that with her 28 years on the job, she could earn another $3 to $4 per hour on the job with some of those counties. While the numbers in that previous article did not support what she said, it was in no way intended to depict her to be telling anything other than the truth about those numbers. She was perfectly accurate, and the article came up short in making the facts as clear as they needed to be. I think it’s important that I clarify this as quickly as possible because the numbers presented could paint an inaccurate picture of the status of our local bus drivers’ pay scale. As the school board sits down to discuss and consider the requested pay raise in the near future, they need to know all of the facts. As taxpayers who provide the money that pays those salaries, each of you also need to have the facts, which are now clearly presented.