#Podiumgate: Most Arkansas School Bus Drivers Earn Less Than Sanders' Lectern
Even amid #Podiumgate real concerns still exist
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders is immersed in controversy over the purchase of a pricy, and mysterious, lectern.
The scandal – known as Podiumgate – revolves around a lectern that cost a little more than $19,000 and was bought using a state credit card. The Republican Party of Arkansas has since reimbursed the state for the cost of the lectern.
The purchase was first discovered by Matt Campbell of the Blue Hog Report after he obtained records under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Attorney Tom Mars is representing an anonymous whistleblower who reportedly "can provide clear and convincing evidence" that Sanders' office "altered" and "withheld" documents. A state legislator has requested an audit.
Sanders discussed the lectern on Wednesday with media while touring Hellstern Middle School in Springdale in Northwest Arkansas.
She said, “No, this was paid for by private funds. People want to manufacture a controversy where there isn't one. This is something where the state's been reimbursed for and I think there's some people that are going to always be angry, always looking to complain about and that's what they're picking right now.”
Still, $19,000 is a lot of money for many Arkansans, especially classified workers in the state's public schools.
Take bus drivers, for example.
South Arkansas Reckoning looked at the classified pay for bus drivers in four districts throughout Arkansas.
In Cabot public schools, starting bus driver annual pay is $11,520 if a driver has committed 22 years of service driving a bus, Cabot pays $15,480.
Let's go to Fort Smith where a starting bus driver makes $13,728. If drivers have 25 years of experience, they earn $15,600.
In the Mountain Home School District, a first-year bus driver working a five-hour route receives $11,706. If they have 31 years of experience behind the wheel, they can earn $16,605.
The DeWitt School District pays a starting bus driver on an “ex-long” route makes $11,993. With 26 years of experience, drivers earn $13,768.
Regardless of a politician's party, he or she pass off a simple purchase like a lectern as no big deal while thousands of Arkansans work to earn dollars that are taxed and live below the poverty level.
Although bus driver jobs are primarily considered part-time positions, a statewide shortage of drivers remains even after the passing of LEARNS Act.
While political intrigue swirls around Podiumgate, classified workers throughout Arkansas schools and students, who wait on the roadside for their buses, are left behind.