A proposal to cut health funding for part-time school bus drivers would exacerbate a driver shortage, and remove a valuable recruitment and retention tool as well as a large chunk of driver compensation, according to the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation (GAPT).
As The Atlanta-Journal Constitution previously reported, Gov. Nathan Deal proposed the cuts in the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) in the fiscal year 2016 state budget for school bus drivers and other state employees who work less than 30 hours a week, or six hours a day.
The association published a position paper on the plan that states that the benefit has been a large portion of the drivers’ compensation for many years, and is crucial to recruiting and retaining drivers.
“The ‘take-back’ of that important, acknowledged piece of compensation that for years has been a part of an implied agreement (and explicit recruiting tool) between employees, employers and the state can only be viewed as a significant ‘pay cut,’” the document states.
The decision could impact up to 75% of the 15,000 school bus drivers in the state, said Garry Puetz, president of the GAPT.
“We feel there would be significant turnover. Drivers would either leave the profession or retire, because they don’t have coverage through our State Health Benefit Plan,” he added. “If this affects recruitment like we think it will, we [will see] a negative impact on student safety, and on access to high-quality learning for our students.”
The association also states in the paper that despite substantial funding reductions for pupil transportation service, particularly in the last six years, local systems and pupil transportation departments have still found ways to cope.
“We are not asking for more. We are committed to doing the very best we can, with what we have left,” the association says in the paper.
The position paper concludes with a request for Deal to remove his recommendation to make school bus drivers working less than 30 hours per week ineligible for inclusion in the State Health Benefit Plan.
To read the full GAPT position paper, go here.
A spokesperson for the governor's office said in an email to SBF that the governor has pointed out that no other state workers who work less than 30 hours a week are eligible for health benefits. “It’s a matter of fairness in that regard as we seek ways to prevent a looming shortfall in our SHBP plan. As the governor has said several times, this is a starting point in our talks with the General Assembly.”
Meanwhile, as they rewrote the mid-year budget on Tuesday, House leaders inserted language in a section on a cost study for the health benefit plan that called for a review of options to provide health benefits to non-certificated school employees, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.