"We love our job," he said.
But the drivers do want help.
They may not be complaining, said Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel, about the money. But you need to know, he told the board, that bus drivers in surrounding communities are better paid and receive better benefits — even in small districts. Siegel works for a union and has conducted negotiations with the district in the past. He said he was recently made aware of the drivers' concerns.
"These bus drivers are not property of Southern Iowa Transit," added Thomas.
If they do "belong" to anyone, he said, it's the community.
The administrators running the district don't have time to worry, he continued, about how to pick up all the students needing transportation using the five bus drivers they would have if the union drivers did not have a contract. So if the school board could encourage Southern Iowa Transit to settle, all such trouble could be avoided.
School board members asked if Thomas could get them a chart showing pay and benefits in surrounding school districts. Thomas immediately agreed to send such a list to the district.
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark
The board took other action as well at their meeting. But two of those "actions" included hearing from other speakers during the public communication part of the meeting. They heard from parents and teachers who didn't like the idea that the Ottumwa High School graduation ceremony could be moved to Friday evening. One speaker said graduations are important enough that they draw family from out of town and out of state. For those people to be in Ottumwa Friday, some would have to miss a day of work on Thursday and Friday. The board did vote on the "school calendar" item, and ruled that graduation would continue to be held on Sunday. The first speaker of the night warned that the district could be opening itself up for liability issues revolving around nutrition. He suggested that students learn better when healthy, and a good way to keep kids healthy is with a fruit snack. He explained that all children in all buildings should receive the same nutrition during the day --- breakfast, lunch and a snack, hopefully fruit. He believed that is not currently the case. If it's not, the district could be seen as discriminating against the students in some schools.