Despite Pledges to Help DCS Survive Some School Bus Drivers Angered By DCS Board

Vote to drop pay guarantee risks alienating drivers when DCS needs their support in November election

Board members at Dallas County Schools voted Tuesday to no longer guarantee bus drivers a minimum of 30 hours of work each week.

The troubled school bus agency is trying to balance its budget after a financial crisis that threatened its existence.

But the DCS board is walking a tightrope as it tries to rein in spending while still trying to keep the support of bus drivers, whose unions are pledging to help DCS win a November election that could put DCS out of business.

Management has argued that 30-hour-per-week pay policy resulted in drivers clocking in and being paid for work that was not performed. Union representatives and drivers have denied that.

One longtime driver, John Lester, spoke at Tuesday's meeting, telling the board it needs support drivers battling low morale in light of the problems at DCS.

"Without the drivers the ship sinks," Lester said.

Dallas County voters will decide on Nov. 7 whether to shut DCS down.

The drivers' unions officially pledged Tuesday to support DCS in its campaign to survive and save the drivers' jobs.

But beneath the surface some bus drivers are seething.

"We come to work every day and we are hurting," said Flo Norman, who has driven a DCS bus for more than 30 years.

Norman wants DCS to win the election, but she says it's hard to convince voters DCS deserves a second chance when Larry Duncan is still on the DCS board.

"If you love the kids and you love Dallas County, you need to go ahead resign, cause it doesn't look good to the taxpayer to see that you're still sitting here," Norman said at Tuesday's board meeting.

Duncan gave up his role as board president in May, days after NBC 5 Investigates reported a questionable DCS land deal.

Duncan accepted $245,000 in campaign contributions from people involved in that deal and people tied to a vendor DCS used on a program that put the agency in financial jeopardy.

Duncan has said the contributions were legal and that he was not involved in details of the land deal.

He has kept his seat on the board even though he's no longer president.

Duncan initially sidestepped questions Tuesday when NBC 5 asked him to respond to comments from drivers frustrated that he is still on the board.

"I need to get back into the meeting, thank you very much," Duncan said.

Duncan came back later to say he was unaware of any drivers who believe he should go.

"Well, I haven't heard that," Duncan said. "We have all learned some things lately that surprised us that shouldn't have taken place. We have got a good mix on the board of experience. We've got people to bring a fresh look and someone with some experience. And we are looking forward to moving ahead into the school year."

Duncan left without elaborating on what he believes should not have taken place.

But spokespeople for the drivers insisted they will do more to make sure the board hears their concerns about pay and the people in charge.

"The board and the people at the top get this golden parachute while we get a kick in the behind," said Albert Walker, a driver turned teacher who has come back to speak on behalf of the drivers.

Duncan and his fellow board members voted Tuesday to begin posting their campaign contributions online — something that was not happening before NBC 5 reported the large contributions vendors made to Duncan's campaign.

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