To the Editor:
Having just read the recent article about a 25-year veteran Pemetic school bus driver reminded me of something I wrote to the then Bar Harbor Times about 25 years ago, so it seems, concerning the inequities in school bus drivers’ pay and benefits. No one paid (pun noted) attention to my letter then, and one would imagine the same would hold true today. But, I’m giving it another shot anyway, once every quarter century.
The article, “A bus driver reflects,” was an example of the dedication, pride, skill and effort that I believe all school bus drivers put into their jobs. Mrs. Park is clearly good at her vital job and obviously an important part of Pemetic’s success as a school. Yet, she doesn’t even look at her driving as a job — and she never said a word about money. I would argue that the same is true with all the drivers that work for AOS 91. They seem to be a different breed. I said as much two and a half decades ago, again, to no avail. But, as a taxpayer, an ex-school employee, and as someone who shares most everyone’s sense of fairness, I believe we need to treat our school bus drivers better.
The way to really show our appreciation is to pay them a better wage and give them bonuses upon retirement.
I recently talked with a bus driver in Ellsworth (who used to drive on MDI), and he just retired this past week after 47 years. Almost five decades with zero accidents or student injuries related to his driving. His final hourly pay was $22 per hour, for two hours in the morning and another two hours in the afternoon. I find that embarrassingly low pay. To say nothing of the fact that he will be allowed no financial compensation for any unused sick days —- unlike a teacher who retires. And forget any bonus. Hardly do I believe this man’s story to be atypical. In fact, I know very well a Tremont bus driver who drove, I believe, for 37 years. Same story. Perfect safety record, not great hourly pay, lost unused sick days, no bonus of any sort. Amazon is now at $15 per hour, which happens to be the pay for a part-time driver I know in AOS 91. Ridiculous and insulting.
A suggestion: give the bus drivers, who must perform at 100 percent every trip, no matter the traffic, the weather, the boisterous students aboard their buses, a better financial package. Better hourly pay. At least partial financial credit for unused sick days. And, a retirement bonus for any drivers who put in at least 20 years of $100 times the number of years driven.
The cards are nice, the individual gifts are thoughtful, the cake may be delicious. Bus drivers deserve more.