Meeting between transportation, education to focus on bus strike

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- The state's director of the Office of Transportation is slated to meet with the Board of Education in Columbia on Wednesday to address the possible strike of bus drivers.

A release from the Department of Education shows that Tim Camp will meet with the board at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the emergency regulation of bus driver certification.

On Friday, Director of Student Transportation Curtis Norman sent Camp a letter addressing the pending strike of Durham{}School Services drivers, urging Camp to allow Charleston County to authorize outside drivers to fill in for the striking drivers.

"Charleston County School District contracts with Durham School Services to transport 24,000 student each day," Norman wrote. "207 of 413 [of] Durham's drivers are members of union Local 509."

According to Norman, the district extended its contract with Durham an addition two years with a pay increase of 5.1 percent. Norman said the union is allegedly asking for a 44 percent increase in salary and benefits for the first year and an additional 20 percent increase for each additional year.

"The union and Durham are far apart and CCSD is making contingency plans for a strike," Norman wrote.

He added that Durham has agreed to bring in approximately 30 non-union drivers from other states in the Southeast in the event of a strike.

However, before those drivers can get behind the wheel of a school bus in the state, Norman has to request -- and Camp has to approve -- the use of the drivers.

"All drivers will meet their state's CDL requirements, as well as federal requirements, and I will ensure stringent application of other restrictions stipulated by the state Office of Transportation," Norman wrote.

According to a resolution to allow the emergency drivers, replacements can only fill in for striking drivers and is only valid for 90 days.

"After the 90-day effective dates, only those drivers who have a South Carolina Department of Education Bus Driver Certificate will be legally authorized to drive a school bus in this state," the provision reads.

Two days before Norman sent his letter to Camp, CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley sent her own letter to the CEO{}of National Express Corporation, the management company for Durham.

"I write to strongly encourage you to take whatever steps deemed necessary to avoid a strike by Durham bus drivers," she wrote. "Our students cannot afford to miss any instructional time and families should not have the continued burden of worrying about safe and consistent transportation for their children."

The two sides have until Jan. 28 to come up with a resolution.