The Twin Rivers School Board backed the recommendation of the district superintendent and cancelled the contracts of two Oak Ridge Central bus drivers.
The two drivers, James Collins and Judy Spears, said they were unfairly fired from their jobs April 23.
The school board granted the employees hearings regarding the issue May 8. At that time, the school board voted to follow the advice of Superintendent David Gilliland.
"I don't feel like we were treated fairly but there isn't much we can do about it now," Collins said. "I don't mind losing the job as bad as I hate the way they did it."
Each hearing lasted 25 to 30 minutes, Collins said.
"We pled our case but they had their minds made up before they started," he said, adding that he and Spears each had five or six witnesses to attest to what happened leading to their firings.
Spears said the firings stemmed from the school's bus drivers asking Gilliland to approach the school board April 22 about the possibility of granting raises to the drivers. The board met that night. The next day, Gilliland then told the drivers that the board wouldn't hear the issue, Collins said.
Another school employee then suggested the drivers park their buses and go on strike in order to get the board to talk to them, Collins said. The drivers then had a meeting about the matter but had no intention of striking, he said.
Collins and Spears said it was during this meeting of drivers when things got out of hand.
Collins said he was fired when he didn't pull his bus around to the school as instructed although the keys to his bus were missing.
Spears said school officials had already placed the students from Collins' bus, which travels near Maynard, on another bus going near the same area after Collins was fired. Officials then decided to take those students off that bus and place them on hers, which travels near Myrtle, Mo., instead, she said. When she refused to drive a double route, she said the principal then yelled at her in front of many ORC students and told her to get off the bus, Gilliland then told him to let her run her route, she said. She ran her route as normal once she left the school grounds, she said.
When Spears arrived home that afternoon, she had a message from the principal on her machine, she said. She called him back and he told her he had a message from the superintendent for her -- she was no longer needed, she said.
In just a matter of hours, the two drivers, who work third shift at the Lord's Ranch at Warm Springs, were no longer school employees ... or were they?
According to the school policy, the school board is the only entity that has the authority to fire an employee. "Termination is recommended to the Board of Education only by the Superintendent. Supervisors will direct complaints to the Superintendent for consideration. Five days notice will be given and any appeal to the board must be presented within this period of time."
When Collins and Spears both gave Gilliland letters on April 29 requesting a hearing before the board, Gilliland wouldn't accept the letters as a formal request, they said. Gilliland kept the letters, signed and dated them and wrote that they were accepted for use "Just as a working tool" with tool underlined twice on Collins copy, Collins said. Gilliland then said he would send the letter to his attorney, he said.
Gilliland hand delivered a letter to Collins' home April 29 stating he was suspended with pay and setting a hearing, Collins said.
Collins said while Gilliland was at his home delivering the letter, Gilliland told him he would be receiving a certified letter by mail soon.
"He told me to tear it up. It didn't mean anything," he said.
Soon after, Collins said he and Spears both received the certified letters; however, Collins didn't tear his up. He said the letters, both written by Gilliland, said they were fired April 23.
The school board had recently renewed Collins contract but tabled Spears' contract. Her contract was set to expire June 30.
Collins said he had hoped for a different outcome, but would go on.
"We'll make it," he said.
A phone call to Gilliland was not returned.