INDIANAPOLIS — For the second day in a row, students at Pike High School took their classes from home. The district declared an e-learning day for the high school and for Pole Preparatory Academy because they didn’t have enough bus drivers to get students to school.
A group of parents have created an online petition, calling for the resignation of the Pike Township superintendent. It already has 1,500 signatures. We spoke with one of the parents behind the petition who says something needs to change.
“Fed up. That’s a good word, we are fed up. We are fed up,” said Jennifer Rubenstein. “And so we’re taking the initiative.”
Pike Township students have now spent several days learning from home so far this semester over staff absences, as teachers and bus drivers remain in contract negotiations with the district over pay.
“I am truly surprised that we haven’t even made the national news because I don’t know that many school districts do this,” said Rubenstein.
Rubenstein says she believes the superintendent is hindering those negotiations, and it’s the students who are suffering in the process.
“I want to make it very clear this is not a witch hunt for Dr. Flora,” Rubenstein said. “But with her silence, with her responsiveness to emails, to the voices of the community, to the media, there is no transparency. There is no communication.”
Rubenstein says she just wants something to change, whether removing Dr. Flora is the answer or not.
“If you have loyal teachers who walk away because they’re asking for a small pay raise, no teacher first year or otherwise is going to want to come into the best district,” she said. “So we’re trying to help save face so that we don’t lose that A rating.”
She’s calling on the district to act fast so her kids can remain in school.
“I want there to be a negotiation that is fair and equitable. I want them to give the teachers and bus drivers what they deserve,” Rubenstein said. “We need to stop these shenanigans. We need to stop this tactic of causing stress with the parents. Because if it doesn’t, parents will leave. Children will leave.”
We asked to speak with the superintendent Wednesday and received this response in a statement:
“The recent disruptions to instruction are entirely unacceptable. The School Board, my team, and I are working very hard to resolve the outstanding issues that have resulted in insufficient staffing.
In the last few weeks, members of our administrative team have had several productive conversations with our bus drivers. We have apologized for the confusion caused by a change to the pay schedule, attempted to clarify the confusion regarding the stipend pay eligibility, and introduced a new Operations and Retention stipend. We have a new Transportation Improvement Team and are working closely with them to create further improvements within the department. We continue to provide opportunities for drivers to ask individual questions and share concerns.
In addition to that, I’ve provided members of the school board a recommendation to provide a stipend to show appreciation for our drivers who have been going above and beyond to cover additional routes and keep our schools open in spite of challenging circumstances. I’ve also requested an increase to the hourly rate drivers receive.
I understand the confidentiality involved in the negotiations process can be frustrating and lead to a lot of confusion. I sincerely wish it could be more transparent; however, that is legally prohibited. Ultimately, there are only a handful of people who actually know what has transpired. However, I am hopeful that we will be able to shed additional light on the process in the near future. In the meantime, please know that I am encouraged by our shared passion for and commitment to our students, families, and community, as well as a desire for all of the employees of this district to be fairly compensated and feel adequately appreciated for the critical work they do.
To help ease the strain on our drivers, representatives are hosting walk-in interviews at the Transportation Center on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and on Thursdays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. We currently pay a starting salary of $20 an hour to contract drivers, provide highly competitive health insurance, a $55,000 life insurance policy, and make annual contributions to the Public Employee Retirement Fund. Additionally, although this is a part time position with a five hour, 183 day contract, drivers have the opportunity to make additional money by picking up extra routes. Pike provides free training to obtain a CDL license.”
WRTV reached out to several other Marion County school districts to talk about their need for bus drivers.
MSD of Warren Township has openings for bus drivers and bus monitors.
"Here at MSD of Warren Township we are contending with a tight labor market, as is the case with most school districts ... although we have opportunities for drivers and monitors, we are successfully transporting our students on a daily basis," the district said.
Candidates who are qualified and interested must apply online . Full-time drivers are eligible to enroll in insurance benefits.
Perry Township Schools is looking to fill multiple positions including full-time/part-time and temporary bus drivers, bus monitors and mechanics. Applications are available online.
Decatur Township has several permanent bus driver positions open and is also looking for substitute drivers. Interested applicants can apply online or by calling 317-856-8060.
Wayne Township says it is "pretty typically staffed in our transportation department at this time." The district is looking to hire a few bus drivers but says it is in good shape. For more information, click here.
"We would handle increased absences by utilizing staff other than bus drivers who are trained and prepared to drive if need be," the district said.
Franklin Township says it is looking for multiple bus drivers and substitute bus drivers as well as bus monitors. More information is available here.
Lawrence Township says it would benefit greatly from having additional bus drivers.
"The Transportation Division has worked carefully with all school buildings to ensure safe and efficient bus transportation for all students K-12 who have indicated that bus service is needed. In some cases, this does result in double routes. As always, we are actively working to both recruit and retain the highest quality employees for the Transportation Division," the district said in a statement.
To learn more or apply, click here.