FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Some Broward school employees are outraged by statements made by Superintendent Robert Runcie who reportedly said some school bus drivers have intentionally sabotaged service since school started last week.
“Tell Mr. Runcie to get it right or go back to Chicago, we don’t need you here,” said bus driver Margie Reynolds.
Nearly three dozen angry school bus drivers showed up at the Broward School Board meeting on Wednesday to deny accusations made by Runcie in the Sun-Sentinel that some drivers ‘deliberately skipped stops, failed to pick up children and feigned unfamiliarity with routes’.
“To be accused of sabotage is low,” said longtime bus driver Sheila Williams. “We would not leave one child. Our ultimate goal is to get the children from the stop to the school and safely back home.”
Last week, the district heard from a number of parents who complained that their children were being picked up excessively early, excessively late or not at all. There were also a number of cases where drivers dropped students off far from home.
“They need to get this right or I’m going to have to start homeschooling my kids,” said one parent.
One of the main problems was that the district’s bus route system was overhauled before the start of the new school year. The drivers say they weren’t consulted and they could have offered valuable input to make the routes more efficient.
“I’m very upset and I hope they can rectify the situation very soon,” said bus driver Sheila Williams.
When asked how they would fix the current problem, many told CBS4 they would like to go back to the old system which worked well for 30 years.
In statements made to the paper Runcie said he felt workers in the transportation division were retaliating for the changes he ordered in hopes of dealing with excessive absenteeism, nepotism, possible payroll theft. He also noted that the budget for the transportation department was nearly double what is should be. Runcie said the average cost to transport children on school buses in some of the state’s largest districts was about $3.30 per mile. He said in Broward it’s costing them $6.01 per mile.
Runcie spoke to reporters in the early afternoon in response to what the bus drivers were saying.
“My biggest concern and primary focus is to make sure students get picked up and dropped off safely and on time every school day. We transport 90 thousand students and it is being done relatively well. It’s a credit to the drivers we have. Unfortunately we continue to receive reports of students not being picked up, late, buses arriving at schools with no students,” said Runcie. “We need to address those issues so that does not continue. One of our challenges, we don’t have a GPS system that is fully functional, so we don’t have a lot of visibility. We need to have schools and parents to report information to us.”
Runcie said he wasn’t indicting the system, just a few bad apples.
“We have reports and some indication that we have drivers who are not doing the work we have hired them to do. It’s a combination of factors, we have terminals, staff and we are paying these people to do the job,” said Runcie. ”It only takes a few people to create havoc in the system. We are going to address it and hold people accountable.”
Since issue was not on the Board’s agenda for Wednesday, board members said they would take it up in the afternoon when it was time to discuss ‘current events’.
The Sun-Sentinel contributed to this report.