BPS STAFFERS: Brevard Public Schools Board Making Positive Changes and ‘Big Difference’
By Amber Jo Cooper // September 7, 2023
SUSIN: I am so proud that we are now seeing the results from the stand this board and sheriff have taken
WATCH: Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Brevard Public Schools Board Chair Matt Susin and State Attorney Phil Archer detailed a new plan to deal with disruptive classroom environments that distract BPS teachers and students during a press conference that made national headlines in November 2022.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – As the school year kicked off in full swing, Brevard Public School District staff members told Florida’s Voice they have been seeing a positive impact following multiple changes made by the school board.
Since last winter, the conservative-leaning board reportedly made sweeping changes, including a zero tolerance policy for physical abuse and violence, a crack down on cell phone use, a change to the dress code, and increasing bus driver pay.
The district made national headlines after a November 2022 press conference where Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey passionately addressed behavioral issues they were facing.
During that press conference, School Board Chair Matt Susin announced a plan to create the “most prolific policy the school district’s ever had.”
Last school year, school districts reported an increase in student behavior incidents, resulting in discussions to help identify contributing factors and solutions, according to an audit report from April.
The report revealed many bus drivers said they experienced student behavior that has led them to feel “unsafe” while transporting students.
Driver Mark Rainey told Florida’s Voice that drivers were being hit with objects, students were destroying property, and other behavioral issues.
Rainey said this year, he’s seen a “big difference” on his buses and the way that principals address the students on the buses.
“I’ve had drivers come to me and say, ‘I can’t believe it, it is different, it’s a big difference,’” Rainey said.
Rainey said the biggest move from the board was a policy that said that bus is an extension of the classroom – so “what applies to the classroom applies to the bus.”
“It became a very simple implementation of – now we don’t have ambiguity going on between what we’re doing over here vs. what we’re doing over here – we’re talking on the same page,” Rainey said.
“I can’t tell you that it’s completely resolved. It’s only in its infancy, but I can tell you that it’s pocket oriented now,” Rainey said.
Brevard Public School District employs more than 8,000 staff members serving over 74,300 students annually and is the 10th largest district in Florida.
“It’s chaos – not education – if a bus driver cannot drive students safely to school and teachers are not respected in the classroom. This hurts the children who come to learn and the bedrock of our society’s future,” Susin told Florida’s Voice.
“I am so proud that we are now seeing the results from the stand this board and sheriff have taken to protect the education of our children, and the employees who deliver it,” Susin said.
The district has been enforcing a zero tolerance policy, which was previously reported in January.
Another new change is law enforcement will be contacted for specific behavioral incidents on school grounds, on school transportation or off-campus sponsored events.
The incidents include aggravated battery, alcohol, arson, burglary, criminal mischief, disruption on campus, drug sales and distribution, drug use and possession, fighting, grand theft, hazing, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, sexual offenses, simple battery, threats and intimidation, trespassing, weapons possession, and sexual battery.
The district is also forming a discipline advisory committee, which will meet multiple times a year and annually review the code of conduct and discipline manual.
Susin said the board “has and will continue to fight for the parents, staff, and children who want to learn, and hold those accountable who do not.”
“The new discipline program is definitely working. We’re definitely seeing improvement in the kids’ behaviors,” Brevard Public School District’s South Area Supervisor John Davis told Florida’s Voice.
Davis said easing the bus driver shortage has been helping limit the amount of behavioral issues drivers deal with.
“What happens is, when you have enough bus drivers, the attendance levels on each bus go down. So instead of having 65 kids on four routes, you’ve got 40 kids on seven routes, and it’s a lot easier to manage,” Davis said.
In addition to behavior issues last year, the district reportedly faced a bus transportation crisis.
Davis said they are up 16 drivers from last year in the south area, but are still hiring and welcomed new applicants.
He said now that bus drivers have a pay increase, the morale is “totally opposite.”
“The overall attitude here is fantastic, they appreciate the school board we have right now, the best school board we’ve had in a long, long time. And they feel that the school board has their backs,” Davis said.
Davis noted great benefits of the job including full benefits, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, accrued sick days, and being off on holidays.
He noted another great benefit – the district also pays for CDL training, which can cost thousands of dollars.
During a June 27 school board meeting, the conservative-leaning board voted to increase the pay for school bus drivers by $5 per hour. The current starting pay of $15 an hour was bumped to $20 an hour.
Jennifer Jenkins was the only board member to vote against the salary increase. Jenkins said she thought the instruction was for the superintendent to take the agreement to the local union 1010, which represents bus drivers in the district.
She said she voted against the change because it is “concerning to me that that is the process we took to accomplish the very same goal we were offering our staff anyway.”
“Our bus drivers deserve that raise but 1010 deserves the respect to come to the table like they should have. It’s wrong,” Jenkins said.
Brevard Public School District previously experienced a bus driver shortage and had 90 driver positions open. With the pay increase, they aimed to attract new drivers and retain current drivers.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Rendell told Florida’s Voice the pay increase for bus drivers was a “clear sign that we value these employees and are grateful for their work.”
“These are not just one-time acts, but a commitment to improving the working conditions of our bus drivers and all of our employees,” Rendell said.
Rendell said they “wanted to make sure our bus drivers were supported and appreciated.”
“One way to show support is to make sure that any student misbehavior is addressed swiftly and appropriately. We address student misbehavior in the classroom and we should do the same on the bus,” Rendell said.
In 2022, the school board reportedly took other steps including a crackdown on the cell phone policy. Wireless devices either need to be powered completely off or placed into vibrate or silent mode, and stored out of sight during school hours.
In June 2023, the board voted unanimously banned clothing does “not emulate non-human characteristics.”
Susin told Florida’s Voice they will continue to “push through adversity and lead the way to protect our children’s education no matter who or what comes out against doing so.”
“It is evident from the constant thank-yous I receive from employees and requests from other school districts to assist with their discipline that we are on the successful track,” Susin said.
Susin said the district can be “proud of the discipline policies this board has put in place to protect our children and the society they will grow up in.”
Florida’s Voice is a patriotic news network that you can trust to deliver the truth with no hidden agenda. Founder and Editor in Chief Brendon Leslie left his job in mainstream news to practice journalism as it should be, unbiased and unbossed.