TAMPA — They spoke about poor leadership, low morale and overheated buses.
School bus drivers who addressed the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday night echoed concerns outlined in a memorandum written by four transportation staffers about how the department is run.
“There definitely need to be some changes from the top to the bottom,” driver Kelmie Bigelow said. “I’ve been in your system three years. I’m really thinking about moving.”
Driver Theresa Robinson said she does multiple runs to three schools every day.
“We need help,” she said.
The memo was sent to school board members earlier this month by four transportation specialists. The district’s Office of Professional Standards is investigating some of the issues, including an incident involving a special-needs student. His driver did not know if the student had been deemed a “red alert” child who is medically fragile.
In the memo, the employees wrote that “internal strife and bullying throughout the department has ensued,” and that the department is losing drivers “at an alarming rate due to low morale and/or easily fixable logistics issues.” They also wrote they were told not to document issues involving special-needs students.
Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia addressed each of the 15 concerns brought up in the employees’ memo and went over measures she said already have been put into place regarding training for employees in handling special education students.
“It really is premature to reach a conclusion until all the facts are in,” Elia said. “If the allegations are off-base, we have to set the record straight. That’s the approach we’re taking with this investigation.”
Board member April Griffin said she would like to see the investigation done by an outside organization and not by the school district.
“I’m being assured everything I brought up is being dealt with,” Griffin said. “I’m still not sure I have full confidence it can be a completely unbiased investigation.”
Other board members said they want to wait for the results of the district investigation before discussing an external one.
Elia said the board will receive weekly updates.
The district sent an automated call out to transportation employees on Monday to let them know focus groups will meet eight times throughout March to give them an opportunity to give their input. Representatives from the staff professionals union will be present and no district administrators will be there, Elia said.
She assured board members that employees who shared their concerns would not be retaliated against.