School support staff demands competitive pay in Manatee Co.

- School bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers joined together to demand higher wages in Manatee County.

They are the people behind the scenes who keep up our schools, feed our students, and make sure our students get to and from home safely.

Claudette Mihaly has been driving school buses in Manatee County for eight years. 

"People have no idea of the responsibilities that bus drivers have," she said. 

It's no easy job and she said it's time for a raise. 

"We are avoiding traffic accidents every day, we are being rerouted, we are taking on four different routes per a day and the drivers are getting tired," she said. 

She and other support staff lined the streets outside the Manatee County School Board Tuesday to make their point heard.

Claudette makes $12.57 an hour. It's the same wage as a new driver. 

With salary negotiations underway, the board is offering all support staff raises, including higher starting wages and a slight increase for people employed longer.

But for those in the middle, the raises amount to about 10 cents an hour. 

"It's like you can't even make ends meet being a single woman and trying to support yourself," said Claudette. 

Bus driver Michael Wells was hoping for something more substantial, like a 12 percent raise. That's what support staff is asking for. 

They said a pay freeze in recent years pushed them behind other counties like Hillsborough, where the starting pay for drivers is about $14 an hour.

It's the same wage Michael makes after 13 years on the job. 

"When I started here I was making $10 an hour and now I'm making 14," he said. 

The employees say they want a fair chance to continue a job they're dedicated to. 

"I love the job. We just feel that we are not respected enough for the pay that we are getting and the hours we are putting in," said Michael. 

Negotiations with the union and the Manatee County School District will continue Thursday. 

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