Bus drivers often are crucial cogs in the wheels of education, ensuring our community's children get to and from school and home. They are entrusted with precious cargo. They are one piece of the safety net.
Yet the series of events that have unfolded surrounding Decatur school bus drivers raises grave questions about how these valued employees are viewed by school district administration.
Back on Jan. 12, a plan to return students to classrooms on Jan. 19 was postponed because of a lack of bus drivers. From the outside, the reasoning seemed odd, as did the timing, all things considered.
And in fact, emails and internal documents later obtained by the Herald & Review showed administrators were warned as far back as Oct. 30 that there was concern about a driver shortage from Alltown Bus Service, the vendor.
In one letter, the bus service asked the district to pay 90% of the contracted amount to keep drivers on the payroll, ostensibly to encourage them not to leave, but no agreement was ever struck.
Amazingly, school board members were never told about the warning, bus drivers filed for unemployment, and the whole thing went off the rails in short order.
The result today is that kids — kids dealing with remote learning, kids who have endured the abject chaos that has become a portrait of this COVID world — are staying home longer.
Parents today are juggling schedules longer.
A lack of stability continues longer.
At the school board meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Paul Fregeau and Chief Operational Officer Todd Covault were asked to explain what happened. In a heated exchange between board members, Fregeau seemed to have resigned himself to being censured, and indirectly invited it.
The defense by Fregeau and Covault was that this was ongoing negotiations. To be fair, district officials should be negotiating contracts and finding ways to save taxpayer money. That's a good thing.
What's concerning is that this specific information was kept from the elected board put there by citizens to represent our interests. Importantly, the Alltown letter references the board. But they never got it.
"We knew nothing about this," board member Kendall Briscoe said. "When I print out everything that's available and nothing was shared with us, Paul, that's on you. That looks bad for you. That looks really, really bad for you."
Not only does it look bad, it shows that something is broken here.
It shouldn't take a Freedom of Information Act request to find out details like this.
The bus drivers deserve better.