OPSB Vice President Greg Manley.jpg

A group of school bus drivers with Ouachita Parish Schools asked the School Board’s finance committee earlier this week to consider recommending a $3,000 pay raise for each driver.

Reginald Fontana, representing bus drivers with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers & School Employees, asked the finance committee to give a pay raise to each of the school system’s 261 drivers.

If the School Board approves the finance committee’s recommendation, the salary hike would cost the school system an additional $783,000 each year.

Fontana said bus drivers have suffered because of recent inflation and are experiencing low morale.

“We have some wonderful bus drivers and we have got to take care of them,” Fontana said.

School Board Vice President Greg Manley said he recently researched pay for bus drivers in other parishes compared to other parishes such as Union and Franklin. Of those other parishes, Ouachita had the lowest pay for bus drivers, according to Manley.

“When I first got on the board in 1995 with teachers’ and bus drivers’ salaries, we were number one,” Manley said. “I don’t know how we got to where we are. In order for us to attract quality employees we need transportation. We need to seriously consider bumping our salary”

Manley said he has spoken with other board members about what action can be taken.

“We’re looking at what we can do,” Manley said. “Part of that is that all of our employees need a raise. We’re focused on not only bus drivers but support people and also our teachers. We’re going to see what we can do to address this discrepancy from a bus drivers’ standpoint but our other employees too.”

Fontana also asked the School Board’s finance committee to consider buying air conditioned buses.

“The majority of our school buses have no air conditioning,” he said. “If you look around at other districts, they have full air conditioning. We’re the only ones running up and down without it.”

Transportation Director Skeeter Boyd said the school system began adding air conditioning to the school system’s bus fleet about four years ago. There are 31 buses now equipped with air conditioning, and 15 buses equipped with “dash air,” or air conditioning in the front for the driver.

“We plan on adding air conditioning as we go,” Boyd said. “We’ve been checking prices on that and hopefully we can continue to add air conditioning on all of the buses.”

Boyd said he recommended buying about 15 buses equipped with air conditioning a year, over the next three years.

“It would be like taking care of two problems at once,” Boyd said. “We just have to be careful of adding air conditioning to old buses.”

Manley said 37 buses, purchased in 1999 and 2000, are about to become 25-years-old, the average lifespan of school buses.

“I think, based on what Skeeter recommended, I feel comfortable going to the board and saying ‘Let’s do what we’ve got to do to keep our fleet up and rotate those old buses up,” Manley said. “At the same time, put air conditioning on the newer ones.”

Manley asked Regina Mekus, the school system’s Business Director, whether it was feasible to pay for air conditioning on all buses.

“We do not have money budgeted this year for buses because it will be next year before we’re able to get buses,” Mekus said. “I’ve been working closely with Skeeter to follow the plan to make sure we don’t get three years down the road and try and fund 40 buses all at one time.”

Mekus said the best time to reconsider air conditioning on buses would be July, when the 2022-2023 budget will be completed.

“If we could keep a limit in there, maybe $150,000 a year, on what we can do in order to retro-fit some of our buses that are going to be there for the longest amount of time, I think that would be worth studying and bringing back to this committee,” said Todd Guice, the school system’s personnel director, who chairs the finance committee.

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