Bus driver’s reduced route is still fully funded
Socorro school board members and administrators have clashed regarding the contract of a rural school bus route driver.
Board members led a heated debate on whether to reduce contract funding for the local bus driver by 40 percent or leave the contract as is.
Sylfred Baca has been driving the same bus route for Socorro Consolidated Schools for nearly 40 years. His original route extended from Socorro to the Santa Fe Diner south of San Marcial. A shortage of students on Baca’s route this school year raised the issue of modifying the route and adjusting Baca’s contract.
District transportation director Annabel Romero brought the issue to the table at the school board’s Aug. 27 meeting.
“Any time there’s an adjustment we have to bring it to the board for approval. That’s my job,” Romero said.
Baca’s original route — which included trips back and forth to the Santa Fe Diner — was a total of 162.4 miles per day. His newly modified route is a total of 90.4 miles per day. The final pickup point on the route is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
A contract employee with the school district, Baca receives a specified amount of money for operation and maintenance of his bus, in addition to the hourly rate paid to district bus drivers. His current owner-operator contract is approximately $32,000 per year. The average hourly rate of pay for a school bus driver employed by the district is between $16.42 and $18.08 per hour.
Most bus drivers work part time driving routes on shifts that are 3-1/2 to seven hours long, Monday through Friday. Baca’s contract covers compensation for owning his bus, along with the fuel and the maintenance of his bus. The proposed modification of the route would include a 40 percent reduction in Baca’s contract.
Board president Tommy Gonzales was opposed to the contract reduction.
“Forty percent is a big hit. If any of us were to take a 40 percent hit it would be devastating,” said Gonzales.
Baca confirmed that there have been other times in the past that his route had experienced a shortage of students in the area around San Marcial and that his contract had not been reduced as a result. The route has always fluctuated with student ridership, he said. Baca also said that such a reduction would create financial hardship for him.
“I’ve been making the same amount since 1972. I don’t think it’s fair — it’s not 40 percent, it’s 44 percent,” said Baca.
Romero said the Public Education Department compensates the district according to the number of miles driven. Because of the route reduction, the district would be receiving less money from the transportation department. The department submits a report to the education department every 40th day of the school year. The report is required by the education department in order to properly fund each school district’s transportation costs.
“(The Public Education Department) can’t pay the district for services not rendered,” said Romero.
Compensation is based on miles driven, student ridership, rural routes and dirt roads driven vs. paved roads, Romero said in a separate interview. The board members agreed to not reduce Baca’s contracted salary at this time.
Board member Ann Shiells voiced her concern with the board’s decision.
“I want to monitor this very closely,” she said.
Gonzales suggested that the board review the contract again in October of this year, when Baca is due to purchase a new bus. School buses are required to be replaced every 12 years. Gonzales also recommended that additional money be taken out of the district’s operational budget to cover Baca’s contract if the education department decides to cut funding for transportation.