Wake County Schools

School bus driver protest causes headaches for Wake families, could continue into Monday

Dozens of school bus drivers in Wake County are participated in a mass "sick-out" on Friday to protest working conditions and demand for better pay.

Posted Updated

Adam Owens
, WRAL anchor/reporter
CARY, N.C. — Should Wake County parents prepare for more school bus issues Monday?

District leaders are hoping to avoid future sick-outs through talks with employees. They are also considering proposals for a bonus and pay increases on Tuesday.

It is still unclear what Wake County bus routes may look like Monday morning.

On Friday, dozens of school bus drivers in Wake County participated in a mass "sick-out" to protest working conditions and demand better pay, leaving parents to find other ways to get their children to school.

"Due to significant bus driver absences in some areas of the county, parents should prepare for the possibility of significant bus driver absences this afternoon," officials posted on the Wake County Public School System website on Friday afternoon.

"If possible, parents should arrange their own transportation for their students," the statement continued. "This is true even if bus transportation was available this morning, as we are uncertain which drivers will be available."

Parents were urged to check online for updated information on individual bus routes.
“We are putting our families and our students in a tough situation when we have students not picked up or left at school," school board Chairman Keith Sutton said.

On Friday morning, dozens of routes listed on the district's transportation website included the notation "No driver available. Route is uncovered." A district spokeswoman said one-third of the 600 buses didn't operate on Friday morning.

Many parents said their children walked to school, or they drove them when buses didn't show at the regular stops.

"When I got done dropping him off, there were kids still standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus to arrive," Wake Forest parent Cory Silker said.

"Green Level High School had multiple buses that did not show up this morning/are not running this afternoon," one woman wrote on the WRAL Facebook page. "I took a car full of kids to school that didn't have rides."

Another parent said her child reported only one bus arrived at their school.

District officials apologized for the inconvenience on Friday morning, but by Friday afternoon, they were apologizing to bus drivers who felt they needed to take action to get noticed.

"The pay and salary structure for the work we do is not adequate," Sutton and Superintendent Cathy Moore wrote in a message to school district staff. "Our bus drivers shone a harsh light on this reality."

Bus drivers have said that their concerns about being overworked and underpaid remain unaddressed.

"When I say stressful, it is like, beyond stressful," one driver told WRAL News. "You have some drivers out here that are on food stamps and that are on housing assistance."

Moore and Sutton noted that many drivers have to run up to six routes a day – double the normal workload – without receiving any extra compensation. They noted most school staffers are likewise overworked and underpaid.

"While it is never acceptable for any of us to deny services to families, it is important we understand we are all facing a similar problem of low pay made worse by the pandemic," they wrote.

The school board is expected to approve a $1,250 "recognition and retention bonus" for every district employee at next Tuesday's board meeting.

"This is just the first step toward recognizing your work and efforts to date," Moore and Sutton wrote, saying the board also is likely to consider extra pay for additional bus routes or teaching duties.

A district spokeswoman said administrators hope to see additional salary increases for school employees once a final state budget is passed.

A former bus driver who quit over the pay and workload issues applauded the drivers who took part in Friday's protest.

"I am proud of them. I am so proud that they are taking a stand, but it needs to be consistent," she said. "They need to do it every day, every day, every day until their demands are met."

Sutton said he hopes that doesn't happen.

"We do understand the frustration they are feeling, the challenges that we are up against as a system," he said. "I am hopeful we can alleviate that and arrive at mutually agreeable solutions to keep this from spilling over into Monday."


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