No word on negotiations to avoid bus driver strike

There's still no word on negotiations to avoid strikes by school bus drivers in Beaufort, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

Representatives from Durham School Services -- the company Beaufort County School District contracts with for bus services -- and the Teamsters union are meeting today in Charleston to negotiate employment contracts for Beaufort County drivers, a Durham spokeswoman said earlier this week.

Attempts Friday morning to reach her and a Teamsters representative were unsuccessful.

The S.C. Board of Education unanimously approved Wednesday a measure to help the three school districts that contract with Durham School Services -- Beaufort, Charleston and Dorchester 2 -- deal with a strike. Durham will be allowed to bring in out-of-state drivers who don't have state-required certifications.

Unionized drivers in both Charleston County and Dorchester 2 districts have voted to go on strike if they cannot reach a deal on drivers' pay and benefits by next week. Beaufort County drivers have not yet voted to authorize a strike, Beaufort County School District spokesman Jim Foster said Friday.

About half of Beaufort County's 200 bus drivers are Teamsters, Foster said.

"Durham School Services has assured us that they have (a) contingency plan in place to make certain that students are transported to and from school in the event driver strikes occur," a note sent home Wednesday with Beaufort County school students reads.

Beaufort County, Charleston County and Dorchester 2 are the only districts statewide that outsource bus responsibilities. Drivers in those districts are the only ones who can strike, because they work for a private company. Others are public employees barred from collective bargaining or striking.

State Education Superintendent Mick Zais said Wednesday a strike would start Monday, if no agreement was reached.

Foster, though, said Friday he was unaware of any deadline to reach a negotiation with Beaufort County bus drivers.

Charleston superintendent Nancy McGinley told the Charleston Post and Courier Wednesday a strike of that district's bus drivers was "highly likely" and urged parents to "be alert, aware and thinking of (transportation) alternatives."

It was not immediately clear Friday how negotiations or possible strikes in Charleston and Dorchester could affect Beaufort County.

Gazette staff writer Tom Barton and The Charleston Post and Courier contributed to this report.