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Columbia School Board approves increase to bus driver wages

Meiying Wu / KBIA

The Columbia School Board unanimously voted Monday night to increase hourly pay for the district’s bus drivers.

Columbia school bus drivers will get paid a minimum of $2 more an hour after the Board voted to amend its agreement with Student Transportation of America, the system that handles the district’s bus driving services.

The decision will cost the district about $800,000 and will come from its operating transportation budget, according to board meeting documents.

Prior to the Board’s vote, Board member Della Streaty-Wilhoit thanked families for their patience and cooperation.

“I understand how important it is to get your children to school on time,” she said. “I know there's a little bit of anger there. If you would just help us. We're going to resolve the problem.”

The Board went on to emphasize its hope for the wage increase to help retain and recruit school bus drivers. Hourly starting pay for the district’s bus drivers is currently $16.25.

Another item on the agenda for some was addressing the substitute shortage CPS classrooms are facing.

Noelle Gilzow is a CPS science teacher and the president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association. She spoke about her personal experience teaching at Hickman High School and was left at a loss for words.

“I wanted to come to you as a teacher — a tired teacher,” she said. “So many of us are behind the scenes holding each other up and subbing for each other when somebody has to be out. So…. I just hope you… keep working at it.”

Gilzow also thanked the district for its helpful efforts during difficult challenges such as coming up with a plan to compensate teachers for driving students to school amid the bus driver shortage.

The Board also unanimously voted to reaffirm an extension of the district’s 2021-22 Coronavirus plan.

As public comment opened up on the agenda item, many community members came forward to express their feeling of necessity toward a mask mandate.

Caitlin Segal is a former CPS student and explained the importance for families to listen to scientific experts in regard to the safety of masks.

“I was in high school when this started,” Segal said. “And talking to other students, I can tell you, we don’t really mind the mask. Parents are the pros of their kids, but the science professionals are the pros when it comes to these kinds of things. We especially need to wear masks to protect those that are immunocompromised.”

But not all those who took to the podium for public comment felt the same.

Marisa Hagler, a CPS parent, addressed board members for not having responded to multiple of her emails regarding the mask mandate. She had previously taken to the podium earlier in the meeting to address Board President Helen Wade about a post she claims Wade made on social media.

Wade called Hagler’s comments “derogatory” and temporarily adjourned the meeting after Hagler would not listen to Wade.

The meeting reconvened for its last board item on the agenda after five minutes and then officially adjourned the meeting.

Xcaret Nuñez studies radio/television journalism and religious studies at the University of Missouri — Columbia.