Bus Drivers Make Case for Bonuses

Although a salary increase for the lowest-paid employees of the Fairfield County School District was built into the 2012-2013 budget last summer, that didn’t stop a phalanx of District bus drivers from filling the Fairfield Central High School Media Center Tuesday night and asking the School Board what happened to their Christmas bonus.

Addressing the Board on behalf of the bus drivers, Michelle Bufford said bus drivers would not, after their Dec. 28 check is issued, be receiving another paycheck until February (many drivers are paid on a nine-month cycle, one Board member later explained, while others are on a 12-month pay cycle). The Transportation Department, Buford said, would be the only department in the District so negatively impacted by a lack of a bonus.

“We tried to avoid this by keeping our money spread over a 12-month period, but it didn’t work in our favor,” Bufford said. “Now, here we are with the very situation we tried to avoid back in August. We knew that because you gave us a raise back in August, you wouldn’t want to give us a bonus.”

The Board did not have a discussion of the Christmas bonuses on Tuesday night’s agenda and did not take the matter up after Bufford’s presentation.

Beth Reid, Board Chairwoman, said after the meeting that employees had received a significant raise in August – in the neighborhood of 10 percent. It was the first increase for many employees in more than five years. Furthermore, she said, bonuses were not in the budget.

“If Christmas bonuses were in the budget, we could talk about it,” Reid said. “But they’re not. And the budget is done.”

A Dec. 6 email from Reid to Board members and Superintendent J.R. Green outlined her rationale for not including discussion of bonuses on Tuesday’s agenda.

“There is no budget line item for Christmas bonuses,” Reid’s email states. “There is not a large margin for unexpected expenditures due to the low cash balance of the school district during this time of year. Any unplanned large expenditures jeopardize the district’s ability to pay its bills. Any unplanned expenditures may lower the fund balance, which could negatively impact the district’s rating when borrowing funds.

“While I respect the inquiry about adding it to the agenda, we have given our employees raises that they certainly deserve and cannot afford this expenditure at this time,” her email continues. “Also, board members have requested that the item be omitted from the agenda.”

Last year, hourly employees received bonuses of approximately $600 each.

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