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‘Climate of disrespect,’ ‘low morale’ cited within Loudoun Public Schools’ transportation department

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The Loudoun Education Association is highlighting increasingly low morale among the county's bus drivers due to what the organization calls a "climate of disrespect."

A shortage of bus drivers has been a high-priority issue within Loudoun County Public Schools in recent years. In addition to increased pay, benefits and other incentives like paid training to apply for positions, the school system also consolidated bus routes to close the gap of needed drivers.

Now, two months into the school year, parents are still calling attention to problems with routes, and the LEA president is speaking up about additional problems within the transportation department.

LEA President David Palanzi issued a statement to the LCPS Transportation Department at the Student Support and Services Committee last week, saying he could no longer sit back as he continuously heard of more and more problems within the department.

“There is a climate of disrespect in the transportation department and employee morale is at an all-time low. For more than a year, as an outside observer, I patiently watched and thought this will improve,” Palanzi said in the statement publicized on LEA’s Facebook page.

In September, LEA held a listening tour in each of the four transportation regions and held a workshop for LEA members in transportation last week, Palanzi said. Regardless of which region members hailed from, LEA found the low morale and lack of respect for transportation personnel was more or less uniform.

“A climate of disrespect seems to permeate every corner of the transportation department. Examples and evidence to support this can be found by having a real conversation with any driver or attendant in the fleet,” Palanzi continued in his statement.

Among the problems drivers reportedly face is what Palanzi calls a misinterpreted sick leave policy where drivers and attendants have been told they need a doctor’s note when calling out of work, even for a first instance or single day. The written policy, however, states notes are only needed for lengthy absences or when supervisors suspect abuse, not for each and every absence.

Additionally, the Valley Service Center, which was supposed to be temporarily closed in the middle of the day, has been permanently closed during the mid-day hours. The service center in Hamilton has been used by bus drivers out west as a place to stay between morning and afternoon runs and a place to regroup with other drivers and management.

“Through this action drivers and attendants in the west have been told you don’t matter to us. We don’t care that you don’t have a place to go between runs,” Palanzi said.

LCPS officials confirmed hours at the Valley Service Center have been revised. Officials said in a statement that office hours are available for drivers to visit with lead drivers and area supervisors on matters related to student transportation.

Office hours are available after the “a.m.” and “p.m.” bus runs. The office is closed between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to allow supervisors time to manage their responsibilities, according to LCPS. These responsibilities include scheduling, routing communications and outreach efforts with citizens and parents, an LCPS officials said.

Palanzi also said lead drivers, the lowest level of management, are not available to drivers because they are still covering routes. This leaves new employees without the support and guidance that many say is critical for a new driver. Additionally, the communication drivers say they receive is no better than a game of telephone — since management does not appear to put information out to leads in writing. Palanzi said that drivers are even yelled at over the radio for all to hear.

He calls for department heads and administrators to listen to employees and create a council or focus group to improve the climate. He also offered the LEA as a resources to hear employee’s voices. Overall, he called for employees to stop being what he described as bullied.

LCPS has released a statement in response to LEA’s concerns saying it has developed several initiatives designed to listen to staff members with regard to workplace practices and other potential morale issues.

Starting this month and continuing through the end of May, the transportation department is conducting eight focus groups with a mixture of bus drivers, bus attendants, dispatchers, mechanics and garage staff. These meetings will be held one to two times a month with the emphasis on listening to issues and concerns.

“We are gathering area supervisors, lead drivers, bus drivers and bus attendants for area meetings twice this year. These meetings will be used to disseminate information with time set aside to hear issues and concerns,” the LCPS statement read. “The first set of meetings are planned before years end and the second during the spring. (The areas represented in these meetings are Ashburn, Central Loudoun, Eastern Loudoun, Southern Loudoun and Western Loudoun.)”

During January, LCPS will also conduct a survey of all transportation department employees.

LCPS plans to offer recruiting and retention bonuses and will be continuing open houses and job fairs and community outreach efforts through Blackboard Connect.    

LEA is an advocacy organization for quality public schools and public school employees. Palanzi said the organization will continue to talk to school board members and LCPS administrators about the issue and may call for action by members if necessary.


Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that LEA stands for Loudoun Education Association.

Comments


Buffacuse3 you know nothing of the atmosphere. Money is not the impetus. Instead of negatively commenting why not educate yourself by honestly objectively talking to a few drivers. You will be enlightened.


Chris,

Eric Hornberger, Jill Turgeon, and Jeff Morse all have teacher spouses. Eric DeKenipp has a spouse who is a counselor.

Note that the LCSB is also trying to eliminate the reqt to disclose that conflict when they vote for the raises via the schools budget. They were found to have violated that state law previously by a special prosecutor.


Virginia SPG - I believe you have also mentioned previously that the SB provides raises to themselves through the teacher spouses.  Can you state specifically which SB members have spouses that are teachers.


Wow.
880 words
Not one of them
Eric or Williams


“Climate of disrespect?”  “We don’t have a supervisor to talk to?”  “They closed our break room?”  Uh-huh…pay them more, and watch their morale improve and see how respected they feel.  This is a money issue—the other complaints are window-dressing.  And, who can blame them…if I felt my pay was low but the same outfit that set that pay level was putting in press boxes and artificial turf fields, I’d be pretty bummed too…


How can anyone expect anything but lies from a school board that did not renew the contract of former Supt. Edgar Hatrick but claimed he just retired. What they tell the press and then say in private never seems to match. Hatrick should have been gone sooner but so should all the board members. A pox on all their heads!


Lawman, this has nothing to do with being fiscally responsible.  This has to do with incompetence and corruption.  It’s pretty simple - supply and demand.  If you cannot find enough candidates for your positions, then you are either not marketing the jobs well or are not paying enough.  Given the press on these jobs, it is clear that the pay and culture of the transportation jobs is not sufficient to properly staff these positions.

However, when we look at teaching positions, we are flooded with applicants, many of whom don’t even get interviews.  Yet we are raising the pay of teachers 5%/yr.  Why?  Well, it’s because the school board members are voting themselves a raise via their teacher spouses.

We should increase the compensation where supply doesn’t equal demand -> transportation.  And there is no need to give more than step increase + inflation to teachers (I would prefer to see the most effective teachers get paid higher pay more quickly but the less effective not receive the same jumps, but that is a different conversation).

Just like roads save citizens time and $$ (how much is an extra 30-45 minutes per day worth to 10,000’s of residents?), buses save time and money for families and relieve congestion on the roads.  You will know the compensation is set correctly when we can find workers for those positions.  Improving the culture may help with attrition as well.


This is a huge issue. Those who think it is not are naive(& possibly some are habitual whiners).Your tax dollars are affected,not from ‘whining’ drivers but from a mgmt that exudes closed door(quoted),disrespectful ignorance and spends our money on an outside firm w/no knowledge of Loudoun to design routes.Drivers carry precious cargo and should NOT be treated like THEY are kids who didn’t have a better job to go to..they choose to do this and their opinions and their KNOWLEDGE of these roads should be considered valuable.


“Climate of disrespect”...you can tell that a lawyer wrote that line.


No way can any of this be true. Our school board representative told us all issues had been addressed, the first week of school. Now I’m confused. Who could possibly not telling the truth???


What cut in pay the bus drivers were getting medical for themselves and their family while working less than 20 hours a week bilking the taxpayer through the school benefit package.


This is on Bill Fox and his Fiscal Responsibility crowd.  Apparently Bill and Company, including Jill, Debbie and the others did not understand the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Transportation Department never recovered from their cuts in pay, benefits and disrespect shown to the drivers.


Can I get some cheese and crackers with that whine.

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