By ASHLEY AMASON
Walton County bus-driver Barbara R. Hunt claims in a series of letters presented to the Walton County School Board that her non-re-employment this past April is retaliatory on the part of Director of Transportation Mac Work.
In Hunt’s first letter, dated July 2, 2008, she details the instances which she believes led to her non-re-employment. Hunt alleges Work smoked on her bus, as well as on other buses, and at the fuel pumps. When she asked him to refrain from smoking on her bus and at the fuel pumps, he replied, according to her letter, that she “needed to keep her mouth shut about it.”
According to Hunt, Work also told her to keep her mouth shut about students violating the dress code, and admitted he purposely denied her a bus route which runs by her house because she was “a pain in his a–.”
However, Hunt’s concerns and claims are not solely centered on her non-re-employment, but are also for students’ safety. Hunt declares in the same letter that Mac Work, Wayne Miller, supervisor of administration and operations, and Superintendent Carlene Anderson violated areas of “The Code of Ethics and the Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession in Florida,” namely, “Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or the student’s mental and/or physical health and/or safety.”
This claim arose after a student presented the correct paperwork to ride Hunt’s bus with one of her regular riders on April 25, 2008. Moments later, both students exited the bus regardless of Hunt’s admonition to remain on the bus and be dropped off at their designated location.
Hunt called Work for instruction on how to handle the situation and received no answer. She then reported the situation to Freeport High School Administrative Assistant Charlie Marello, who Hunt claims responded, “No big deal.”
As she proceeded on her afternoon route, Hunt says she saw the two students swimming in Alaqua Creek, and states “this concerned me as a parent and also for liability and student safety reasons.” After parking her bus, she left a message for Mac Work to call her, but received no return call. She then left messages for Wayne Miller and Superintendent Carlene Anderson regarding the issue. Hunt says neither returned her call.
Hunt brought her concerns to Superintendent Anderson in a private meeting on June 13, 2008. Anderson allegedly dismissed Hunt’s claims, saying, “if your boss man tells you to keep your mouth shut, do it.”
Hunt then addressed the Walton County School Board publicly at the July 15 meeting, presenting a second letter which claimed Superintendent Carlene Anderson, Wayne Miller, and Mac Work violated several areas of “The Code of Ethics and the Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession in Florida,” including, in addition to the aforementioned, “Shall not use institutional privileges for personal gain or advantage,” “Shall maintain honesty in all professional dealings,” and “Shall not engage in harassment or discriminatory conduct which unreasonably interferes with an individual’s performance of professional or work responsibilities or with the orderly processes of education or which creates a hostile, intimidating, abusive, offensive, or oppressive environment; and further, shall make reasonable effort to assure that each individual is protected from such harassment or discrimination.”
Walton County Education Association Executive Director Brian Phillips stated, “I can’t say that the Walton County School Board violated any law, but if you look at her evaluations for the past three years, I question why they would not re-employ a driver who has been dependable and of good character.”
On July 29, Superintendent Anderson told the Herald, “Barbara Hunt was a bus-driver employed in our district with an annual contract, and this past 2007-2008 school-year her contract expired. That’s it.” Both Wayne Miller and Mac Work declined comment.
Hunt was placed on the agenda for the Aug. 5, 2008 School Board meeting, where she again voiced her concerns and pleaded for renewal of her contract. “I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but someone’s got to hear me out for the safety of these kids” Hunt said to the Board.
Board member Sharon Roberts expressed that she felt Hunt had followed her job description by trying to ensure the safety of students and their environment, and reporting violations. “If this was retaliatory action against Ms. Hunt for following her job description, I do have a problem with that,” Roberts said.
Only Superintendent Anderson possesses the authority to renew Hunt’s contract. At the meeting, however, she did not address Hunt directly nor did she answer any of the questions posed by Hunt. Instead Board chairman Darrell Barnhill replied to Hunt’s comments, saying, “If you don’t hear anything from Superintendent, you can assume your contract expired.” When Hunt pressed for a time by which she would know Superintendent Anderson’s decision, Barnhill replied, “She’s probably not going to change her mind.”
After the meeting, Hunt declared, “I feel like the superintendent let me down, let the students down, and let the public down. What kind of superintendent would allow the director of transportation to non-re-employ an employee for bringing realistic concerns to their attention?”
Former bus driver Linda Wicker said on Hunt’s behalf, “She goes above and beyond what’s required. She does her job, but more than that, she tries to be a role model and instill manners in these kids.”