Richmond County school communication breakdown?

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News 12 First at Five, February 18, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Suspended bus driver Shirley Oliver says she just wants the truth to come out, while the bus drivers’ union leader and other drivers say they need more communication in the district's transportation department.

When Oliver went to the investigator today, she tells News 12, "she said the parents she talked to, the one parent that said her kid fell, got hurt up and bruised up, and that the kids that fell on top of her - that it never happened. And she said the other kids said that never happened."

Which is something different than a parent tells News 12. But the real problem here might be deeper than a few bruises. There may be a communication breakdown.

"It's an ongoing situation that's been going on for years now," said union leader Sallie Thomas. "It's about time something got done. We need an administrator to sit down with its drivers and deal with the issues going on, on buses."

Another driver, Caronetl Williams, agrees. She's even talked with Shirley about her problems.

"She's tried to reach the principal and reach some type of compromise. She's also went to the office, still no response," Williams said.

News 12 spoke with Michael Shinn, the transportation director. He says there is an open-door procedure, a chain of command, for discussing problems. He says even talked to a couple of bus drivers today about problems they are having.

"When you take the problem to your director and everything and ask for help and you're not getting it, that's where it shuts down right there," says Sallie.

Sallie says Shirley should have monitors on her bus. Shirley says she took the problem right to the leaders, asking on a regular basis for a bus monitor. Sometimes she'd get help, but most of time, she was out of luck.

"They say, they don't have enough monitors to put on every bus. And I've been asking for monitors, especially after Christmas," says Shirley.

"She should have had a monitor on the bus. I know a lot of people who ask for monitors, don't get them. That's a problem there," says Sallie.

"It's going to take us listening to them and them listening to us," says Ms. Williams.

Shirley has write-ups, which she's given to the principal of Gracewood Elementary School. The problem, Shirley says, is that she has yet to hear back from that principal. Sallie says that's a problem that happens all too often.

News 12 tried to contact the principal of the school, but she has not returned several calls.

There is a report scheduled to be completed by March 1st. It'll look at the Transportation Department in Richmond County and what needs to be done. Sallie Thomas plans to have a meeting with school Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden later in March to discuss the findings.

Right now, Richmond County has 20 monitors. Mr. Shinn tells News 12, they would need to hire about 120 more people to make sure every bus has a monitor. He says they put monitors on the buses depending on the situation. Those monitors usually stay on the buses until they feel the problem has been eliminated.

News 12 tried to look into the policies in Aiken and Columbia County, but no one was available to talk to us today because of the President's Day Holiday. We will continue to stay on top of this story and bring you updates as they become available.

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