SkyPark to purchase district office building

Nov 25, 2021 | Business, Lake Arrowhead

Bus drivers air their grievances


By Mary-Justine Lanyon

The last item on the action calendar at the Nov. 18 meeting of the Rim of the World Unified School District’s board of trustees was “Approval of Resolution #21/22-04 for the sale and negotiation of a purchase and sale agreement for district surplus property located at 27315 North Bay Road in Blue Jay.” That property is the district office building.

The fiscal impact: $2,448,500.

The purchaser? According to the resolution, it is SkyPark at Santa’s Village, deemed to be “the most desirable proposal because of the terms, price and community benefit.”

The district office was declared surplus property in May 2020 after Measure A – a $51.5 million bond measure – did not pass. Under state law, the property had to first be offered to other government agencies. When none stepped forward, the district was able to go out for public bidding.

Because the terms of the proposal were discussed in closed session, the trustees were not able to discuss its contents – those terms, the community benefit and SkyPark’s intended use of the space. Those intentions, the trustees acknowledged, were outlined in the park’s proposal.

Following the meeting, Bill Johnson – general manager of SkyPark – said, “Yes, we are looking into a possible purchase of the district office building. However, we do have a non-disclosure agreement that we will be honoring at this time. As we are able, I can get you more information.”

As for the district office, Superintendent Michelle Murphy said that “we will be moving to one of our closed sites – the Lake Gregory Education and Community Center in Crestline.”

Murphy added that California Education Code outlines how the funds garnered by the sale can be spent.
The Nov. 18 meeting began with an airing of grievances by the district’s bus drivers. Six rose to speak to the trustees, beginning with Tim Grossman.

“We provide a well-oiled operation in getting children to and from school,” Grossman said. “We are an extension of the classroom. We drive across mountain roads regardless of snow.

“A newly hired bus driver can struggle greatly whether they are renting or buying a house.” He added that housing costs can consume almost their entire paycheck.

“The cost of food and gasoline have increased dramatically. Our schedule makes it nearly impossible to work a second job. I suggest you consider increasing our compensation.”

He was followed by five other drivers, one of whom said he commutes from the High Desert to drive for Rim.
“I have applied to another school district because they pay more,” Mike said. “I really don’t want to leave Rim but I have to provide for my family.”

He added that the drivers “need to concentrate on keeping the buses safe and on the road.”

A third driver, Stephanie, reviewed for the trustees what it takes to become a school bus driver, including 20 hours of classroom training. “We have had several applicants drop out of class when they learn of the liabilities bus drivers carry,” she said.

“Our buses are 40 feet long, weigh 15 tons and are difficult to learn to drive on a straight road and even more difficult on the terrain we drive on every day.

“Due to the roads, the pay scale, the size of the vehicle and the liabilities, it is difficult to get drivers.”

In addition to driving the buses, Jose told the trustees, the drivers have to wash to exteriors and interiors of the buses as well as repair damage done to the seats by students. Most of all, he said, “we have to focus on the road while making sure the kids get off at the right stops.”

Patricia noted that she has worked in the transportation department for five years. “I generally love my job,” she said. “I love the relationship between the drivers and the students. We are the first representative of the district students interact with each morning.

“We greet them with a smile – start their school day off in a positive way. It’s an honor to work for this district.”
However, Patricia told the trustees, “It’s a complicated schedule. We work split shifts that require us to work very early in the morning. The length of our breaks makes it difficult to go home between shifts. And split shifts make it impossible to work another job.”

And finally, Jo said that “out of all the divisions in the district, bus drivers have a liability. An infraction can affect our personal auto insurance.”

“We hear you,” was the response from Trustee Dr. Natalie Lindemann. “We appreciate that you came. We appreciate the respect you are showing.”

Trustee Bill Mellinger added that “life is extremely challenging right now. I’m not sure I know anyone in any field who isn’t struggling. I was a bus driver for several years – it is a serious responsibility. Thank you.

“We really do care,” Mellinger said. “We are doing everything we can.”

Trustee Jordan Zarate thanked the bus drivers for the specifics, adding he has questions and hopes “we can find time to get answers. I appreciate your civility and level headedness.”

“Thank you for telling us your stories,” said Trustee Cindy Gardner. “Unless someone talks to us about their challenges, we sometimes forget to pay attention.”

And President Jordana Ridland noted that “I learned a lot about the responsibilities bus drivers have. I appreciate the hard work you put in every day. The relationships you develop create excitement in our kids about going to school.

“What’s hard,” Ridland continued, “is we don’t have enough money for everything. We’re not getting the money we need from the state. We know you’re struggling. We’ll do everything we can. We have to take the whole district into consideration.”

Prior to his comprehensive update on the district’s schools, student representative Zackary Lawrence turned to the bus drivers in the audience. “As a student who has taken the bus, there was not a moment when I felt unsafe or uncomfortable. As a student, I appreciate everything you do. You are the first person we see and the last we see on school days.”

And on the heels of a remark by a Rim Teachers Association representative that the teachers are underpaid and feel underappreciated, Zackary said, “We see the sacrifices the teachers are making. It is more healthy for the students to be in the classroom. We are here for you just as you are here for us.”

At that, several people in the audience were seen wiping their eyes.



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