Mr. Fleming is busy on his combine in his field of soybeans as the sun beats down midday. He is in a rush to finish this row because he knows the rain is coming in late this afternoon. He only has about 15 more minutes before he will have to be done for the day. Why? Why would he quit a little after lunch? Surely he could keep going until 4 or 5 o’clock at least. Normally, he would- but Mr. Fleming, like so many of the Farmers in Madison County, Ga. drives a school bus.
He hurries to the end of the row, hops off the combine and into his pick-up truck to be at the school ready to accept his kids by 2:30 pm. He smiles as he greets each one of them by name as they climb on the hot bus. He gathers patience for their loud talking and rambunctious personalities. He has to holler “sit down” and “keep it down back there” a few times as he picks his way around the back roads of the county, stopping to let kids off at their homes. At one point, a little boy leaves his book bag so Mr. Fleming gathers it and knows he will drop it by his house on the way home if he can so the kid won’t worry. By the time he does his last stop, the rain begins to sprinkle signaling that there will be no more combine action that day. Mr. Fleming sighs but he knows that even though it might be inconvenient to drive a bus, it is very worth it for him and his wife. After all, that is how they are able to get healthcare.
Mr. Fleming, like most other bus drivers say health insurance as one of the main motivators for obtaining a job as a bus driver. The pay isn’t that good (average of less than 8,000 a year) and the task can be trying on patience and even your hearing. It is an equal partnership with the county. They drivers provide a service to keep kids safe and get them to and from school and the county provides various benefits, like healthcare. This is essential to self-employed people, like farmers.
Even though Gov. Deal is defending his decision to eliminate healthcare from part-time employees stating fairness. His rationale is that part-time workers across the state should be treated equally and that means no benefits. Gov. Deal says that cutting the benefits of part-time employees will save the state more than 100 million dollars a year. That might be great to help out the budget but the question remains, who will be behind the wheel of these busses if they eliminate benefits?
Georgia Representatives like Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, said, “I predict if they pass it, 80 to 90 percent of the drivers in rural Georgia won’t drive.” (AJC.com article).
So this isn’t a case of fairness as much as a case of being practical. Who will we be able to get to drive all these busses of children who we will be able to pay a wage the county can afford? Most people who have their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) can find much better paying full time jobs. Also, you have to remember that this is not a case of driving a delivery truck full of boxes or packages.
These drivers are carrying very precious cargo and in my opinion, that deserves our respect and appreciation for their dedication. Most of the drivers are older and more experienced behind the wheel and that experience leads to safer busses. Providing health insurance has always been one of the ways we have shown our appreciation for that experience and our commitment to our student’s safety. Why should we change that now? Have our children somehow become less important and saving money become more important. Gov. Deal seems to think so. What do you think?