UPDATE: Evangeline Parish votes not to pay contracted bus drivers, others remain paid

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UPDATE: EVANGELINE PARISH, La. (KLFY)- School Board President Wayne Dardeau returned News 10’s calls Friday answering where the saved funding may go. “I don’t know what we’ll do with the money. We might buy Chromebooks for the kids. It’s up for the Superintendent Office,” Dardeau said. “That money will be used toward students. It frees up $800,000 that won’t be going to a private company.”

ORIGINAL STORY: EVANGELINE PARISH, La. (KLFY)- A school board and a national bus drivers’ company not seeing eye to eye is resulting in several employees going unpaid during coronavirus closures.

A request to amend the contract with First Student, whose drivers carried the Evangeline Parish’s most precious cargo, failed in a school board meeting Thursday night.

In audio News 10 obtained from the virtual meeting, one board member argued, “I don’t think we should pay nobody. I mean, to me, they are responsible, you know. They need to reorganize if they don’t know what they are doing.”

Another board member disagreed and said, “First of all, the state has not cut any of our funding for the year. We have the money…They were adamant that those bus drivers got paid just like everybody else.”

Not all of the bus drivers for the Evangeline Parish School District (EPSO) work for First Student. Those who work for EPSD are still being paid.

“It’s bad when you put so much effort into doing a good job, and you are treated like low-hanging fruit,” said Susan Griffith. Her school-age grandchildren talked her into driving their bus. Now she uses the extra twelve-hundred a month to feed a farm they can enjoy.

She admits, “If it wasn’t for that, I would hand them my keys because I’m not going to work for somebody, or I don’t want to, that doesn’t have our back.”

While she feels overlooked, TJ Campbell said he understands, but he’s still surprised, “When we don’t drive, we don’t get paid, but I was expecting with everything that went on, they could have paid us for at least two months.”

District 12, Ward 1 School Board Representative Ellis Guillory communicated he felt that payment is First Student’s contractual responsibility, “The ones that work for our Evangeline Parish School Board, we paid them because we’re responsible for them. Now First Student is responsible for their own.”

First Student sent News 10 a statement that said they “hope the district reconsiders its decision” and said without receiving payment from the district, their employees will have to be furloughed and might not be back the next time they’re needed.

It a future Campbell also expects, “I think it’s going be even harder to find bus drivers now because the ones that you did have that you didn’t take care of are probably going to find other places to work.”

Ellis Guillory’s advice to the unpaid bus drivers was “to get a better contract.” He communicated he wasn’t on the school board when the plan was made with First Student, and he’s always disagreed with it, but he’s still willing to negotiate if the multi-billion dollar, international company gives up more.

You can read First Students’ full statement to News 10 below:

At First Student, we take great pride in being part of the Evangeline Parish School district team. Their support allows us to serve the community with drivers, maintenance techs and staff that are the best in the industry.

Despite our repeated urging, the district has decided to forgo funding student transportation during this school closure. As a result, we are not receiving payment from the district, which means it is in the best interest of our employees to file for unemployment or seek employment elsewhere. 

We are concerned about the material impact the district’s decision will have on the students and families we serve. If we experience significant employee losses during this uncertain time, our service might not resume fully when school is back in session, whether it be this school year or in the fall. 

We hope the district reconsiders its decision.

Jay Brock, First Student spokesperson

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