IWCS hourly employees to receive raises

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted unanimously with two absent on Oct. 14 to approve raises for hourly employees.

Currently, Isle of Wight’s minimum rate for bus assistants is $9.50 an hour. This will move to $10 an hour effective Nov. 1. A further raise will be needed when Virginia’s minimum wage increases to $11 an hour in January 2022 per a state law passed in 2020.

Isle of Wight’s minimum hourly rate for bus drivers, which increased in September from $13.50 to $14.50, will increase again to $15.50, also effective Nov. 1. Bus drivers who already earn $15.50 an hour or higher will receive a $1-per-hour raise starting that same date.

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IWCS transportation director Lee Livingston reported a shortage of eight drivers as of September. The school system remains eight drivers short one month into the 2021-22 school year, according to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, with Livingston himself having now left his position.

Livingston resigned for personal reasons, according to Briggs. Todd Christiansen, formerly principal of Smithfield Middle School, will be taking his place as interim director.

As a result of the ongoing driver shortage, a number of drivers and bus assistants have had to complete extended routes.

“If one driver calls in (sick) we have no subs,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton. “Our mechanics are driving almost every single day. We’re paying them overtime.”

The School Board approved a $1,000 one-time stipend for drivers on extended routes in September and authorized a one-time stipend of $500 for bus assistants on extended routes at its October meeting.

As a temporary solution to the shortage, IWCS placed between 500 to 600 students on buses completing double routes, which resulted in some students on the first run needing to be at their bus stops up to 40 minutes earlier than their normal time, and others on the second run sometimes arriving at school up to an hour and a half late. The school system has been trying to phase out the double routes over the past month in favor of longer single routes.

According to Briggs, two buses are still running double routes. One is set to end Oct. 25 and the other by Oct. 28. But if a driver calls in sick, the double routes may return.

When that happens, “we have to instantly then try to contact all parents that we’re going to have to do a double run,” Thornton said. “We’re not going to be able to pick up your child on time, and that is so hard to organize at the last second, but that’s happening. It’s not going to stop. We’re not going to fill those vacancies.”

The School Board also voted that evening to amend its contract with SSC, its maintenance and grounds provider, giving the company an extra $318,360 to provide raises for custodians and groundskeepers. Effective Nov. 1, the minimum salary for these positions will increase to $15 per hour.

Per the 2020 law, Virginia’s minimum wage is set to increase to $12 an hour in 2023, but planned increases in 2025 to $13.50 an hour and in 2026 to $15 an hour will only occur if the General Assembly reenacts those provisions prior to July 1, 2024.

“We can’t wait until 2026 … we need to keep our employees whole and we need to keep them with us, and I know we’re eventually going to get out of this and get back to normal,” Thornton said.

The School Board then voted to amend its contract with Chartwell, its food services provider, to reflect roughly $140,000 in raises for cafeteria workers, cooks and managers. Effective Nov. 1, the minimum salary for cafeteria workers will increase to $15 an hour, with the minimum pay for cooks rising to $18 an hour and the minimum for managers rising to $21 an hour.

Instructional assistants’ minimum starting pay will also move from $13.69 an hour to $15 an hour effective Nov. 1. Any instructional assistants earning at or above $15 an hour will receive a 50-cent-per-hour raise. The instructional assistant raises are projected to cost the school system roughly $136,000, according to Thornton.

Thornton said he believes the raises can be paid for without having to ask the county’s Board of Supervisors for more money by reallocating funds from budgeted but unfilled positions and through attrition savings, which occur when an experienced employee retires and is replaced with someone with less experience at a lower rate of pay.