As Arlington school-bus drivers and attendants, and those who represent their interests, ramp up the pressure, Arlington school leaders say they are taking steps to address their complaints.
“We do hear your concerns,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said at the Dec. 2 School Board meeting. “We know there are changes that need to be made. Some are immediate things that we can do. There are a lot more long-term changes that we need to do.”
The school system has been inundated with complaints about treatment of bus drivers and attendants, who in many cases say they feel like second-class citizens in a school system that seems to lavish money on every interest group except theirs.
School Board members in recent weeks responded to the public-relations debacle by upping hourly wages for bus drivers. Durán on Dec. 2 promised to throw more money at the issue in his proposed fiscal 2023 budget. He is aiming to bring drivers at or near the top in pay scales among jurisdictions across the region.
(School leaders, like their County Board counterparts, appear to be counting on a combination of a docile electorate and still-spiraling residential-real-estate assessments to provide the tax revenue for an ever increasing list of efforts and causes that have been promised funding in the coming year.)
Currently, school-bus drivers in Arlington earn $21.59 to $35.60 per hour, depending on seniority, a rate lower than that in Prince William and Loudoun counties but at the moment largely higher than in Alexandria, Fairfax County and Falls Church.
APS officials also have provided new furnishings for bus-driver lounges, opened fitness-center access to all employees and are providing more covered parking for bus drivers.
In a Nov. 22 press release that may have done more harm than good, the school system suggested that the drivers had been on the receiving end of “misinformation” that spread distrust about the school system’s efforts at addressing their concerns.
And if things are contentious now, just wait a year, as Arlington school leaders plan to return collective-bargaining power for employee groups after three decades of its being illegal for Virginia localities.
Allowing employees to fully unionize and meet local leaders at the bargaining table – which at least one insider suggested would be as much a mismatch as the Christians vs. the lions (the school system being the Christians) in the Colosseum during the Roman empire – was a gift bestowed on the public-sector unions by Democrats at the state level during the brief period, soon to be over for now, when they held full power in Richmond.