The AFT local representing school support workers in Houston is leading the country in obtaining relief from spiking gas prices. Houston's school board on June 26 approved a plan to give employees who make less than $30,000 a year a one-time stipend of $250 to help pay for gas. The relief will cost $2.85 million and cover 10,000 of the district's 30,000 employees. The lowest salary for teachers in Houston is $42,000, so they won't be eligible for the bonus.
The plan is the brainchild of Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel, who originally approached the superintendent proposing a $500 supplement that could cover gas costs for much of the fall. A $250 bonus still may be able to cover a few fill-ups in September and part of October, she says, until the district can implement a vanpool program to get employees to work.
"The way I look at it, if gas gets so high, they're not going to be able to drive to work," Thomas says. "It's something we've got to face up front."
With gas apparently headed for $5 or $6 per gallon and the typical bus driver or food service worker earning $8 or $9 an hour, Thomas is concerned that school operations could grind to a halt. Nationwide, gas prices are averaging about $4 a gallon this week, and the cost already is eating up a third of many workers' paychecks.
Thomas can't see Houston idling its 2,000 buses and having children walk to school as a viable alternative. AFT research director Jewell Gould adds that while this is true for schools almost everywhere, it's particularly true in Houston, where there is no zoning and children would have to cross large distances, industrial areas and busy highways to walk to school.
"It's going to be a crisis," Thomas says. "The school districts are going to hit rock bottom if they don't put something in place. But we can all jump in on this because we've got to keep America moving."
July 2, 2008