There’s a bus driver shortage in Nashville schools, which means some students don’t get off the bus until dark.
“The kids have started getting home later and later, and they’re picked up in the morning later and later,” Bellevue mother of four, Christi Proctor, told WTVF. “We just never know what time they are going to get home.”
The situation doesn’t sit well with new school board member Fran Bush, who is calling out the district’s superintendent for contributing to the problem. Despite the bus driver shortage, superintendent Shawn Joseph often calls on one or more drivers to serve as his personal chauffeur, ushering him to and from breakfast and lunch dates, school meetings, the airport and other places in the district, records show.
On mornings when the chauffeur picks Joseph up at his home, the driver also needs a driver to drop him off, which requires dispatchers to rework routes to accommodate the superintendent.
“Using a bus driver that is taking way from bus routes, it’s inappropriate,” Bush said. “It’s inappropriate because our children are suffering.”
WTVF first raised questions about Joseph’s use of a taxpayer-funded driver two years ago, and Bush reignited the issue again in September. Joseph has repeatedly downplayed the concerns by alleging the practice is nothing new, and it’s an “efficiency thing” that allows him to work on his computer or phone between meetings.
District records obtained by WTVF, however, paint a different picture.
Records suggest Joseph used a personal chauffeur for trips a short a half-mile from his office, leaving the driver idling in the vehicle racking up overtime.
Text messages from Joseph’s driver show he was forced to prioritize the superintendent’s schedule over his student bus route. Notes in the superintendent’s schedule show the driver escorted his son to school, and Joseph to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy and personal events.
There’s also evidence Joseph used district resources for vacation travel.
WTVF “found multiple airport assignments where Joseph’s calendar listed no official business or, in some cases, showed he was taking vacation days for those trips,” according to the news site.
Joseph denied his driver has ever taken his son to school, or escorted him to the airport for vacation, alleging the records provided to the television station by his office were not accurate.
He claimed it was a “very rare occurrence” to use a driver for personal doctor’s visits.
Regardless, Joseph now contends the district is taking action to ensure the superintendent’s travel demands don’t negatively impact students amid the bus shortage, though Bush and other critics think more drastic measures are necessary.
“We looked at our practices. We made sure, with the bus shortage, that anyone who could be driving a pubs is driving a bus – and we are doing that now,” Joseph said.
Bush questions why it took the superintendent two years to take action.
“It’s about time that you finally realized how much more we need our bus drivers to be doing their jobs and being there for our students,” she said. “I clearly think, at this point, learning about this information, we need to open up an investigation.”