Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie commended school bus drivers at a school board meeting Wednesday.
Widespread transportation problems have plagued Broward Schools since the school year began two weeks ago. Issues with bus routes have led to delays and some children not getting picked up or being dropped off at the wrong stop.
"I have a very heightened sense of respect and appreciation for the role of bus drivers in this district. It's absolutely critical. If you didn't understand it before, you understand it now," Runcie said.
"I'm hoping for resolution to this issue," Board Chairwoman Ann Murray told the Sun-Sentinel. "I think it's very clear that there are serious issues and concerns, and what I hope to hear from the superintendent is that he's got a handle on those issues."
Last week, Runcie suggested that acts of sabotage by some union workers in retaliation for his attempts to reform the district's transportation department may be behind the recent issues with school bus service.
In an interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Runcie claimed the district is besieged by widespread nepotism, excessive absenteeism, possible payroll theft and an inflated transportation budget.
The district's bus department transports around 90,000 children on 1,000 buses at a cost of $90 million. Transportation Director Chester Tindall said the district is more than 50 drivers short after the human resources department denied his request in April to hire 92 drivers.
"I have kids that were stranded at school at 5:30 in the afternoon for a high school that got out at 2:40. I called my dispatcher and said I'm taking these kids home. The school board left them stranded at a school. I took them home," said bus driver Jason Ramsey.
Layoffs Expected in Broward Schools
Members of the Federation of Public Employees, which represents the drivers, blamed Tindall for the issues, saying he didn't assign routes until the school year started and has changed them frequently.
"The fact of the matter is the fundamental purpose of the transportation department, which is to transport 90,000 children to school safely and competently, they have failed at that," union president Dan Reynolds said.
Meanwhile, Tendall said he asked Runcie to go on medical leave starting next week.
Hundreds of parents stood outside bus depots, unsure how their children would get to class. The board said new drivers were being hired and technology for routes were being improved.
"This is a moment for us in this district to move forward, or go backward. In the end, I think we're all committed to going forward," Runcie said.