The Fayette County Board of Education will address possible pay raises for service personnel at its regular meeting tomorrow.

The request came from board member Peggy Farmer, one of the members who has suggested looking into raises in recent months. Administrators, central office directors and coaches were awarded raises in 2005.

At its last gathering, James Bennett asked the board to consider what he feels are long-overdue raises for service personnel such as mechanics. A mechanic in his 32nd year in the Fayette school system, Bennett said his employment period has included “a long road of broken promises and right out lies.”

He added the small raise the state does give won’t make up for the rising cost of insurance and other bills, so they’d also like to see more in their wallets from the county.

“Telling us that we have an important job doesn’t pay the bills,” Bennett said. “All service personnel, bus drivers, truck drivers, custodians, secretaries, cooks, aides, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, mechanics and others need equal treatment with other groups.

“Morale is at an all-time low.”

Last week, Superintendent Helen Whitehair said that, while she empathizes with those personnel, the county budget simply isn’t able to handle raises for them and teachers.

“Teachers and service personnel do deserve good wages; they perform one of the most important jobs there is,” she said. “But I don’t think a county can support that vast amount of money out of the general fund.”

Furthermore, Whitehair said the supplement the county currently gives employees is a pretty decent one. Professional employees are about $4,000 over the state minimum and service personnel about $2,600 above, she pointed out.

In a seven-county area that also includes Clay, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, Raleigh and Summers, Fayette ranks first in supplement paid to service personnel from levy funds and second in that given to professionals.

“Quite frankly, out of the local funds we are already doing quite a lot,” Whitehair said.

Although it wouldn’t help Bennett put more money in the bank, Whitehair said she hopes the board acts positively on a request to advertise a full-time handyman/lube man position, which was tabled at the last meeting. That, she said, would help “keep our buses in the very best shape possible.”

Phil Hinkle, a state inspector, recommended the county make the hire for the transportation department.

“It would give us a lot of help with our preventive maintenance program,” said transportation director David Seay.

According to numbers supplied by Seay, the county currently has six mechanics servicing 72 bus routes, while there were nine mechanics servicing 80 bus routes in 1993-94. “We have one of the most diverse bus systems, logging in a lot of miles over rough terrain,” he explained. “Those extra miles over rough roads cause more mechanical breakdowns and problems.”

Fayette’s average of 12 buses per mechanic pales in comparison to Kanawha’s much more favorable 8.1 average. It is also stretched thinner locally than Mercer (10.5), Nicholas (11.0), Raleigh (11.1) and Pocahontas (11.5).

The board will meet Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at the central office.

— E-mail: skeenan@fayettetribune.com

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