AVERILL PARK, N.Y. (News10)- The Averill Park Central School District says they had to close their schools on Friday after staff within their transportation department called out sick. But a bus driver with the district says low wages have left them short staffed and unable to handle a few people are feeling under the weather.

Amber Luby is one of many parents in Averill Park today whose kids are at home after the district cancelled classes. She said she found out around 6am when she began receiving notifications from her child’s school. “No remote. No here’s some work. Some practice. Just, there’s no school today. Deal with it.”

In a statement to News10 the district spokesperson said the sudden closure was due to a staffing issue in the transportation department, when 7 employees unexpectedly called out sick. It’s unclear if it’s COVID related.

He said the district did not have time to plan ahead and transition to remote learning, so school was cancelled.

Keith Hammond is one of the bus drivers who called out sick along with his wife who also drives for the district. “I am sorry this happened. I am sorry if it caused hardships. But I don’t think I should be allowed to take a sick day without a finger being pointed at me,” said Hammond.

The bus driver who has worked for the district for 20 years says cancelling school could have been avoided if the Averill Park paid their drivers better wages to keep them from leaving for other districts which pay more. He says they are currently seriously understaffed and when anyone calls out sick, it then becomes a crisis.

“Ok. A couple bus drivers call out sick and you don’t have enough to staff it. It’s not the bus drivers fault,” added Hammond.

Transportation departments across the country have remained short staffed during the pandemic.

Luby, who says she previously worked for the district as a custodian, says support staff like bus drivers deserve higher wages.

“They don’t pay enough. They don’t care about their support staff,” she said.

Hammond told News10 that he feels the district is “too top heavy” when it comes to the administration. “At the same time that we’ve been getting 1-percent increases, management confidential is getting 3-percent, 6-percent. Thousand dollar bonuses.”

The school district sent News10 this statement in response to what Hammond is saying:

“There have been a number of transportation retirements this year, and the majority of districts throughout the state, and country, have been dealing with bus driver shortages.
We do not have any other comment on his other statements.”