Edmonds School District recalls three bus drivers to transport students to special education, technical programs

Edmonds School District bus drivers rallied last week in front of Meadowdale High School demanding their health care benefits be reinstated.

The Edmonds School District announced Friday that it will be bringing back to work three bus drivers of the 175 who had been laid off in August after the school district decided to teach students remotely this fall. More drivers may be recalled as the need increases, the district said.

Of the three drivers who have been recalled, two will transport students to special education programs and the other will drive students to technical programs, the district said.

“The Edmonds School District is currently assessing and will continue to assess the need for staffing, including school bus drivers,” said spokesperson Harmony Weinberg. “The district is transporting some of our students to outside programs, and as transportation needs grow, we will continue to recall drivers.”

Last month, drivers were told they would not be returning to their bus routes at the start of the 2020-21 school year because school buildings would be closed to in-person learning. Since the district’s funding for transportation is based on student ridership, when ridership declines, so does the funding, Weinberg said.

The district’s transportation budget faces additional complications this year. Even when ridership increases and drivers begin to transport students again, Weinberg said the district will not receive funding from the state needed to pay them.

“Without additional state funding for transportation, we do not see how to restore operations without a budget deficit, even with the drastic bus driver layoffs the district enacted in August,” she said.

Recently, the Washington state Legislature authorized districts to repurpose transportation funding to be used for purposes other than transporting students to and from school, like delivering meals or technology. However, the districts will not receive additional transportation funding to cover such costs. Weinberg also said transportation funding is already projected to fall far short this school year and the change does not support the recall of any school bus drivers.

“Unless the state changes the level of transportation funding for this school year, the Edmonds School District faces a severe transportation funding deficit,” she said. “The district remains unable to recall school bus drivers unless there is work for them to do transporting students.”

In addition to lost work, the health benefits drivers and their families receive through the district were terminated at the end of August. The decision prompted drivers to demonstrate last week in front of Meadowdale High School, demanding that their health coverage be reinstated. Drivers say the district’s decision to eliminate their coverage in the first place violated state laws protecting school district employees. The district has not responded to that claim.

“We are extremely disappointed we cannot support our dedicated and committed school bus drivers at this time,” Weinberg said. “No one involved in this decision is naive to its impact on our drivers. We are anxious to recall them and get them back to work supporting student learning.”

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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