Bus #85 for the Twin Rivers Unified School District is a special education bus. Driver Luciano Mega has his first pick-up at around 6:30 in the morning.
So why is he sitting in the parking lot of a strip mall with the engine running at 5:15a.m., more than an hour before any students with board?
And it’s not just a question of the time on the clock, but also the pages on the calendar. Day after day, in that same parking lot, we found Bus #85 sitting and idling.
Meanwhile, the district is struggling. We did our homework and checked the budget for the same period. Special education buses are running in the red- more than $70,000 over budget for some line items. That’s enough to pay a teacher’s salary and then some.
On Feb. 7 at 11:45 a.m., all the kids on bus #85’s route are already in school. And again, Bus #85 is sitting in a parking lot.
The driver, Lu Mega, is nowhere to be seen until 59 minutes later. That’s when he comes walking out of a secondhand store, finger still holding a place in the book he’s obviously been reading.
Maybe it was his lunch break.
But his next stop is yet another parking lot where he sits for 50 minutes more, letting the afternoon drift by. And day-after-day it’s the same routine, or similar. That’s even though FOX40 sources tell us buses are supposed to be kept in the yard when they are out on routes.
At least it was convenient for me; when I wanted to ask the driver of Bus #85 what gives, I knew right where to find him. When I did approach his bus, I saw he’d kicked his shoes off, and was lying in a back passenger seat.
When I asked about the bus being parked so often in that strip mall in the mornings, at first Mega acted confused.
“No, I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
But later in our conversation, he admitted that it was him sitting in the running bus.
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe I went to the restroom over there, before my pick-up,” Mega said.
We had never seen Mega using a restroom once in the morning hour when I watched him in the parking lot. So I had another question for him: was he making any overtime?
“No, of course not,” he said.
But remember that homework we did? It included getting copies of Mega’s ‘extra duty’ time sheets.
On Feb. 7, a day we saw him spend an hour in the first parking lot before his first pick-up, another 59 minutes sitting in another parking lot, and another 49 minutes sitting in a third parking lot, Mega claimed 45 minutes in ‘extra duty’ pay.
And on February 27th, Mega claimed three hours of “extra duty” while we watched him spend an hour sitting in the morning before his first pick-up, and half an hour waiting in this parking lot.
So, instead of his usual $20.42 an hour, his pay records indicate he was banking $30.36 during the overtime periods. All for doing a route that he says only takes him eight hours to do.
District records show month-after-month, Mega is claiming 28, 43 or 29.5 hours in extra pay.
Sometimes he earned that pay for added routes. But it’s unclear why he got overtime on the other days. Still, he’s making $850 to $1,200 dollars or more a month as a result.
We asked for an explanation from Deborah Davis, Director of Transportation Services for Twin Rivers Unified School District. She refused to tell us why Lu Mega got paid for “extra duty.” She also refused to tell us why he’s allowed to burn fuel, sitting in a parking lot long before his route starts.
Davis did give us this statement about district policy:
“The district takes complaints very seriously and works diligently to investigate every one of them. Our goal is to solve issues as soon as we can by identifying them and taking action.”
The only rule we could confirm with Mega, is that buses are not supposed to leave the yard early.
“I broke the rules by leaving early. But I’m not getting paid. It’s my own time, simple as that,” Mega said.
Broken rules in a broke school district. Twin Rivers is a school district that’s laid-off 296 people in the last three years, and sent out more than 100 provisional pink slips to workers in the same month that Mega made more than $1,200 in overtime.
So in the end, who is it that’s being taken for a ride?