SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – More than 50 Caddo Parish school bus drivers parked their buses Thursday afternoon instead of driving their regular afternoon routes in what they say is a demonstration of their unhappiness with the school district’s failure to respond to concerns about management, working conditions, and pay, among other things.
Caddo schools spokesperson Mary Nash-Wood said 51 drivers called out sick Thursday and that the total number could still go up. The district employs a total of 281 drivers for regular routes. Wood said the district was not aware of the spike in callouts being an organized action taken by disgruntled drivers. Instead, Wood said, it is not uncommon for more drivers to call out immediately following a holiday. Caddo schools returned from fall break Thursday.
Thanks to a shortage of substitute drivers, Nash-Wood said they have also had to recruit other employees in the district who are qualified to drive buses.
“We’re still going to do everything to cover those routes. That includes getting our mechanics out. Anybody with a CDL license that is able and well to drive a bus in Caddo Parish. We’re going to make sure they’re out doing everything they can to get them home safely.”
Still, some buses might have run late Thursday. Nash-Wood said parents of students on affected routes would receive a text notification.
“We don’t want to abandon our children,” said bus driver Brandi Batts. “Those are like our children, our own children on those buses. We love them dearly. We hate doing as drastic of a step, but we’ve went and we went and they’re not meeting our needs.”
Red River United President Jackie Landsdale said the callouts were not organized or sanctioned by the union, which represents about 120 bus drivers. However, Landsdale said she wasn’t surprised by their actions. “The bus drivers have been playing nice with this district since 2014 and have seen nothing actionable…so the fact that they’re angry, I’m not surprised by that.”
Lansdale said the drivers met with the Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree and district administration last week to discuss their concerns. Now, they’re waiting to hear back and Landsdale said they are prepared to vote on taking action if they don’t get a satisfactory response by the time the school board meets on Tuesday.
The union has taken action twice in recent months, but Landsdale pointed out that they did not involve disrupting student’s transportation to and from school. Drivers opted not to run midday routes, field trips or athletic events on September 27 and they picketed the school board’s October 1 meeting.
Corene Reames parked her bus Thursday because the school district “has had plenty of time in the past to address our issues, such as bus conditions, getting paid in timely manner for trips and extra work, and pay increase for field trips and out of town.” She said her fellow drivers also want the district to look into step increases, as well as to improve the treatment of bus drivers, and the condition of the buses themselves.
“Constant breakdowns. The buses are old. In just horrible shape and we’re constantly breaking down.”
“That is just some of the problems and concerns that have been discussed and sent to Goree and board members that have dated back to 2014, and also had a meeting with Goree back in April and he just met with drivers Friday, with same results and answer, ‘I’ll research it.'”
Reames notes that Goree indicated drivers would receive an email the afternoon of that Friday meeting, and that it never arrived.
That’s why the driver says they’re parking their buses and may do it again on Friday.
“‘Til we get answers, and not ‘I’ll research it.'”