Stop Sign on School Bus (copy)

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GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools leaders say they’ve learned that some district bus drivers may be organizing to stay home from work next week to protest for higher pay and more affordable benefits.

“We agree that their pay is too low, as is the pay of all of our support staff,” district Chief of Staff Nora Carr wrote in a statement. “However, to potentially strand thousands of students at home or in the cold at bus stops would be a major breach of trust.”

Reached by phone, Carr said the potential action does not appear to be organized by Teamsters Local 391, the union with which the majority of represented school bus drivers are affiliated. She said the district checked with the local’s leadership, as well as the Guilford County Association of Educators, which she said also has some members who are bus drivers. Neither, she said, told her they are organizing any kind of bus driver strike next week.

The district, she said, has had 146 leave requests turned in for Nov. 25, and 26 — the only days school is in session next week. That volume of requests is out of the ordinary, and it sparked conversation and questions among district staff.

They’ve seen a few school bus drivers post on social media about staying home next week to raise concerns about pay and the affordability of benefits, Carr said.

District officials believe there’s more conversations on social media that they can’t see due to privacy settings, she added.

The district plans to deny the driver requests for leave next week, Carr said, except for special circumstances like a driver requesting time off to have a medical operation far in advance of these dates.

Carr said the district is trying to talk with any bus drivers they can ahead of next week.

The district already has a shortage of bus drivers, with 60 vacancies that need to be filled, according to Carr.

Vacancies have contributed to problems like some students arriving late to school or having to wait a long time after school before a bus driver taking on multiple routes can pick them up.

Board members had hoped to give bus drivers a pay raise this year and included $1 million for that in the budget passed this spring.

However, Guilford County commissioners gave the district less than half of the $10 million increase school officials sought for this academic year, meaning the school board will have to make choices about what to cut.

Because the state, which provides a portion of school funding, has not agreed on its budget, the school district has not finalized its budget either.

Board members voted on Oct. 10 to provide up to $2 million in bonuses and incentives for bus drivers this school year, with details to be worked out by district leaders.

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Contact Jessie Pounds

at 336-373-7002 and follow

@JessiePounds on Twitter.

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