Tensions between Wake County school support staff and higher-ups came to a head Friday when bus drivers walked out en masse to protest grim working conditions. 

Since the start of the school year, reports have been piling up of staff working 60 or 70 hours a week, pulling extra shifts, and taking on duties outside their job description without extra pay—all stemming from unprecedented staff shortages. Bus drivers were hit particularly hard, with a 17 percent vacancy rate in September, the News & Observer reported

Many bus drivers called in sick Friday in an informal strike, leaving a third of the county’s 600 buses still in their parking lots. The walkout continued Monday with “multiple routes listed on the district’s website as having no driver available,” writer T. Keung Hui reported. 

“The district had warned families on Sunday that ‘bus driver absences could disrupt transportation services on Monday’ so parents ‘should arrange their own transportation for their students if their bus route is affected,’” Hui wrote. “Wake County parents scrambled to get their children to school … facing a repeat of Friday’s long carpool lines.”

Despite the severity of the situation, Wake County officials say they do not expect bus driver absences to continue beyond today. Schools will be closed Tuesday because of Election Day, the same day as the Board of Education meeting. 

The board will likely take action Tuesday to address the concerns of bus drivers—they’re set to vote on giving a $1,250 bonus to all full-time employees, including drivers, as well as discuss paying drivers for the extra routes they’re working this year.

The board will also vote on raises for teachers and raising the minimum salary of support staff to $13 an hour.

Wake Superintendent Cathy Moore and school board Chairman Keith Sutton said in an email to school employees Friday that the drivers’ actions should be viewed with sympathy, the N&O reported.

“The pay and salary structure for the work we do is not adequate,” Moore and Sutton wrote in the email. “Today our bus drivers shone a harsh light on this reality. Many of them are expected to drive up to six routes a day—twice the amount considered normal—with no additional pay. Similar stories can be told about our safety assistants, Child Nutrition Staff, mechanics, custodians, instructional assistants and all support staff.”

Updates on bus service are available on the district’s website

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com.