by Susan Cohen
At a press conference on Wednesday morning, Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley emphasized that a bus driver strike — and work stoppage — is only a possibility at this point. However, "Based on the information that [Chief Financial Officer Mike] Bobby received last evening, we are concluding that a strike is highly possible," she said. "We would like our parents to be prepared in event of a work stoppage by bus drivers, because we know our schools and our families will be impacted in a major way."
McGinley also stressed that CCSD is not involved in the contract negotiations between Durham School Services and the bus drivers the Illinois-based company employs. Currently, there are more than 400 drivers in the school district, 70 percent of which belong to the union. More than 22,000 students in Charleston County use the school buses to get to and from school.
Durham will be able to provide about 30 out-of-state bus drivers to take over routes in the event of a work stoppage. CCSD is hoping to expand that number by looking for properly certified local or out-of-state drivers who can pick up routes. Additional options include extending morning and afternoon school hours for early drop-off and late pick-up, which will mean bus drivers can double up on routes. CCSD is also working to identify parameters of accepting late students or excusing absences.
"Not all of the drivers are in the union. Not all union drivers may honor the strike," Bobby said. "We just don't know how many will choose to go to work that day."
McGinley has communicated with the school board, associate superintendents, and principals. Parents have been contacted with ParentLink (a direct phone message system), as well as standardized letters that will be sent home with students today. School improvement councils and PTAs have also been notified in the event that they can help assist families with alternative plans.
CCSD has also been in communication with police departments about traffic issues — work stoppage will not only affect parents and guardians of students, but, because of increased coverage, other motorists as well. "In the event of a bus strike or work stoppage, there will be additional cars on the road," McGinley said. "Our schools will be open, and right now we're giving people as much advance notice as possible."
McGinley added that CCSD might not find out about the strike until the morning it occurs. If that is the case, they will push that information out to the public immediately through radio and television, ParentLink calls, social media, and other methods. Bobby hopes that at the individual school level, parents will begin making plans with other families in their community. "Now that the communications have begun from the district office out to our greater community, to our parents and our guardians of our children, that we will now see those kinds of discussions held at the local school level, where people know people and they can connect with others and hopefully build networks that help bring children to school safely."