Former Florence Unified bus drivers claim poor management to blame for staffing issues

FLORENCE, AZ - It was just last month that ABC15 worked to uncover why a video had been sent to us showing what appeared to be overcrowding on Florence Unified School District's buses.

One student and her mother told us that she had to sit on her friend's lap in order to sit on the bus to get home from school. 

"If anything...happened, I'd go flying and probably hit somebody," said Poston Buttes student Makayla Benton. 

Her mother thought it was ridiculous, guessing that there were roughly 50 kids on the bus after watching the video her daughter brought home. 

"I don't blame the school," said district parent Tina Hall back in September. "I know that they need the resources. I just wish they would put it out there that they need help."

But, former and current district employees are saying that the district absolutely should be to blame for the crowded buses.

"They are all about safety until they don't have the resources to provide that," said former FUSD bus driver Jonathan Paul. "And then it's like, 'Oh well, it's okay.'" 

FUSD told ABC15, they have lost roughly 21 bus drivers since July of 2016. However, multiple former and current employees said that when you add in the van drivers and bus monitors - the district has lost more than 40 of those employees in about a year. 

Paul said that he worked for the district for two years, but quit last year. He said the district recommended for his dismissal back in September. 

But, he feels that his performance had nothing to do with that. Instead, he felt that he was being targeted because he wrote a letter to managers asking for change in the behavior by managing staff at FUSD.

"For whatever little reason, they [the employee] are singled out and picked on until they reach the point where either they decided, 'Well, it's not worth it. I'm leaving' or they're forced out somehow," Paul said.

That feeling is shared by others we talked to, including another former driver, Robert McKelvain. 

"It's all the same... being mistreated, the morale; being moved around, switched around, shanty equipment, the buses are falling apart left and right, burning up left and right," McKelvain rattled off. 

McKelvain was also recommended for dismissal after he said, he was targeted after applying for jobs outside the district. 

He said he tried for a while to express ways to fix what the problems he saw with the district's management.

"I nailed it down to the point... A, B, C and D, of exactly what I was seeing going wrong with the morale and how employees were being treated and what not," McKelvain claimed. "And still nothing was ever done."

ABC15 requested an on-camera interview with FUSD. They did send us a written statement that said: "Over the past two years we have seen attrition in bus drivers and transportation staff at similar rates as our classified positions. The reason given by the majority of employees who leave are low pay, breaks in pay (due to our school calendar) and our location as a rural district." 

The statement did not address the concerns raised by bus drivers about management staff. 

The district also said that since our first story aired, they have been able to fill the missing slots they needed to be fully staffed. However, it will take a couple of months before those drivers are processed and trained for their positions. 

The district said they are always hiring, so if you are interested in applying with FUSD, give them a call at 520-866-3500.

ABC15 requested an update from FUSD since our story first aired. FUSD sent us the following statement:

The Florence Unified School District is one of the largest employers in Pinal County with over 1,000 active employees. Over the past two years we have seen attrition in bus drivers and transportation staff at similar rates as our other classified positions. The reasons given by the majority of employees who leave are low pay, breaks in pay (due to our school calendar) and our location as a rural district. As of today, October 23rd, we have filled all vacancies for bus driving positions. However, several new hires are currently being processed and trained for their positions, which can take up to a month and a half. In addition, we are asking our local voters for an 8% Maintenance and Operations Override that will allow us to become more competitive with our salaries in hopes to improve staff retention.

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