Monique Braswell, a mother of four and the president of the Richmond County Council of PTAs, stood outside the board of education building Tuesday with 40 school bus drivers and parents huddled around her.
She hushed the crowd, raised her voice and began by telling them not to be discouraged.
“I know y’all are frustrated,” Braswell said. “I am, too, but let’s do this in the right way, because then we don’t give them a reason to say we’re being irate, we’re being obnoxious.”
Bus drivers and members of the PTA have started the school year by expressing the longstanding problems they see with the transportation department and demanding the school board address them. While drivers say they have reached out to administrators repeatedly with no results, at least one board member said this is the first time he has received a request for help.
At the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Braswell asked the board to set up a forum this week to address their concerns. To give the transportation director and other administrators enough time to gather information, the board added the group to the agenda of a called meeting set for Monday.
Standing outside the board of education after Tuesday’s meeting, Braswell said bus drivers are ready to request serious changes next week.
Driver Maurice Boyd said the problems he has seen this year have been going on for years. Boyd said he e-mailed a four-page list of concerns to board members before Tuesday’s meeting because following the chain of command in the transportation department has not worked.
According to Boyd, children are delayed getting to and from school because drivers are given double and triple routes daily.
The workload is the result of a shortage of drivers and high turnover caused by low morale, Boyd said.
The buses they drive are overcrowded, he said, and almost unbearable in the 100-degree heat.
“All of us are tired of being blamed for problems we’re not causing,” said Sallie Thomas, a 29-year driver. “Kids are being dropped off late because routes aren’t right. That’s not our fault, that’s administrative.”
Board member Jimmy Atkins said the transportation department is working to get beginning-of-the-year hiccups resolved. The district is dealing not only with the start of school, but also a new method of transporting students.
The transportation department designed a shuttle system that takes magnet school students from their schools to the middle schools for which they are zoned in the afternoons, where they transfer to a different bus to be brought home.
The system is supposed to save time and money, but it caused hours of delays in the first few days of the school year.
While drivers say they have asked for changes but have been ignored, Atkins said no one has approached him before Tuesday with problems.
When the school board adjourned the meeting Tuesday without holding a discussion about transportation problems, the roughly 40 drivers in the audience burst into laughter.
Driver James Swanagan said he can’t help but feel ignored. As he got out of his seat, Swanagan, a minister, whispered under his breath.
“Father, forgive them for their sins because they know not what they do,” he said.