Members of District 65’s Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee discuss a pay raise for bus aides with district leaders on Monday, Oct. 17. Credit: Duncan Agnew

After giving bus drivers a pay raise over the summer in order to attract more drivers, Evanston/Skokie District 65 is now debating an increase in the hourly wage for bus aides as well, in the hopes that higher pay could attract more workers.

At the latest meeting of the school board’s Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee held Monday afternoon, members unanimously voted in favor of increasing the hourly rate for bus aides from $13.65 to $15.50 an hour, which is more in line with the wage offered by most neighboring school districts, according to the district’s assistant superintendent of operations Terrance Little.

That proposal will now head to the full board for final approval later this month.

“School bus aides are responsible for supervising students on school buses, ensuring their safety, and building relationships with bus drivers to ultimately ensure safe transport service for everyone,” a memo from Little to the school board says. “In addition, school bus aides monitor the students’ behavior, assist them with mobility issues in boarding and deboarding, maintain order, and enforce current safety rules and policies.”

At Monday’s committee meeting, Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said the district eventually decided a pay increase was the best possible solution to the shortage of bus aides after having conversations with Positive Connections, the district’s school bus provider, about the problem. The additional $1.85 an hour for aides could cost District 65 anywhere from $39,000 for a total of 40 bus aides to $71,000 for a maximum of 60 bus aides.

The move by the district also comes after some parents and guardians of District 65 students, especially students with disabilities enrolled at Park School or at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center, complained about issues they were experiencing with transportation provided by the district. Zoki Tasic is the legal guardian of a 4-year-old currently attending JEH, and he spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting.

“He was put in a vehicle, not a bus, without a car seat, without an aide, after a lot of emails and phone calls back and forth ensuring us this would not happen,” Tasic said. “Sending a 4-year-old child with a disability away to school requires a great deal of trust, and we do not have the same amount of trust in the district as we did last year to keep him safe.”

Tasic and his wife repeatedly contacted the district and JEH leadership to make sure that situation would not happen again, but the same issues kept occurring, he said Monday. He also told board members that transportation plans and staffing “should have been figured out over the summer,” and he added that Monday was the first actual day since the start of the school year where his child was picked up and dropped off on time and safely.

“We hope that the issues really are resolved now, but we want to make clear the impact this has had on our family,” Tasic said.

Later in the meeting, as board members were discussing the pay raise for bus aides, committee chair Joey Hailpern said the potential $70,000 hit to the district was well worth the cost to ensure safe transportation for every child.

“It seems like a good investment to have kids supported on the buses,” he said.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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